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JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 




From a sketch by Rajon 






James A. McNeill Whistler 




i ? > 



Copyright, 1903 
By J. B. Lippincott Company 

Published December, 1903 

Electrotyped and Printed by 
J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, U. S. A. 




To L. O. E. 

This Sixteenth Day of September 
Nineteen Hu?idred and Three 


Most of what is contained herein has been col- 
lected from time to time within the past ten years 
and jotted down for use in certain lectures on 
Whistler and his art. The lectures were, as is this 
book, a tribute to the great painter. 

The reminiscences are mostly personal. Many of 
the anecdotes — though perhaps equally familiar to 
others — were had from the artist's own lips. The 
views concerning his art, whether right or wrong, 
were formed while watching him at work day after 
day, and after many interviews in which, now and 
then, he would speak plainly concerning art. At 
the same time not so much as a thought must be 
attributed to him unless expressly quoted. 

The biographical data — just sufficient to furnish a 
connecting thread and aid in the appreciation — have 
been gathered from casual sources, and are, no 
doubt, subject to incidental corrections. 

Only when a duly authorized "life and letters" is 
published by those who have access to the material 
that must exist will the great artist be known by the 
world as he really was — a profoundly earnest, serious, 
loving, and lovable man. 

Meanwhile, those who believe in his art must — 
like the writer — speak their convictions for what 
they are worth. 





Why he never Returned to America — Tariff on Art — 

South America — Valparaiso 15 


A Family of Soldiers — Grandfather founded Chicago — 
Birth — St. Petersburg — West Point — Coast Survey 
—His Military Spirit 25 


An American — The Puritan Element — Attitude of Eng- 
land and France — Racial and Universal Qualities 
in Art — Art-Loving Nations fy 


Early Days in Paris and Venice — Etchings, Lithographs, 
and Water-Colors — "Propositions" and "Ten 
o'Clock" 79 


Chelsea — The Royal Academy — ' ' Portrait of Hi? 
Mother" — " Carlyle" — Grosvenor Gallery — The 
"Peacock Room" — Concerning Exhibitions . . . 109 

The Ruskin Suit — His Attitude towards the World and 
towards Art — "The Gentle Art of Making Ene- 
mies" — Critics and Criticism (Kfo 





Supreme as a Colorist — Color and Music — His Suscepti- 

bilty to Color — Ruskin and Color — Art and Nature 173 


The Royal Society of British Artists — In Paris once 

more — At Home and at Work 217 


Portrait-Painting — How he Differed from his Great 
Predecessors — The "Likeness" — Composition of 
Color — No Commercial Side — Baronet vs. Butterfly 244 


The School of Carmen — In Search of Health — Chelsea 

once more — The End 277 

Index 289 




Whistler Frontispiece. 

From a sketch by Rajon 

Crepuscule in Flesh Color and Green ; Valpa- 
raiso ......... 22 

Harmony in Gray and Green. Portrait of Miss 
Alexander ........ 50 

The Lange Leizen — of the Six Marks — Purple 
and Rose ........ 58 

Plate made while in the employ of the Govern- 
ment at Washington, 1854-55 . . . .88 

Arrangement in Gray and Black. Portrait of 
the Painter's Mother 114 

Arrangement in Black. La Dame au Brode- 
quine Jaune. . . . . . . .120 

Arrangement in Gray and Black. Portrait of 
Thomas Carlyle . . . . . .122 

Nocturne, Black and Gold. The Falling 
Rocket ........ 140 

Blue and Silver ; Blue Wave, Biarritz . -174 

Little Rose, Lyme Regis 274 

Symphony in White, No. II. The Little White 

Girl 282 


" This man, who took no joy in the ways of his brethren 
— who cared not for conquest, and fretted in the field — this 
designer of quaint patterns — this deviser of the beautiful — 
who perceived in Nature about him curious curvings, as 
faces are see7i i7i the fire — this dreamer apart, was the first 
artist. " — Whistler's ' ' Ten o' Clock. ' ' 



JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 



Why he never Returned to America — Tariff on 
Art — South America — Valparaiso. 

Now that the end has come and the master is no 
more, the scattered sheaves of stories and anecdotes, 
of facts and fancies, of recollections and impressions 
may be gathered together from the four quarters, 
and the story of his work be told, — not in detail, 
not in sequence, for some one will write his life, 
but in fragmentary fashion as the thoughts occur. 

For the better part of his life Whistler fought the 
prejudices of all Europe and of his own country. 

He once said, with a tinge of bitterness in his 
tone : 

"The papers in America seem content to publish 
second-hand whatever they find about me in English 
journals that is mean and vindictive or that savors 
of ridicule. Aside from the hopeless want of origi- 
nality displayed in echoing the stupidities of others, 
what has become of that boasted love of fair play? 



Even the phlegmatic Englishman takes the part of a 
fellow-countryman against many — quite regardless ; 
but the American press — bully like — leans to the 
side of the bully and weakly cries, bravo ! whenever 
the snarling pack on this side snaps at the heels of 
an American who mocks them at the doors of their 
own kennels. 

" One would think the American people would 
back a countryman — right or wrong — who is 
fighting against odds ; but for thirty years they 
laughed when the English laughed, sneered when 
they sneered, scoffed when they scoffed, lied when 
they lied, until, — well, until it has been necessary to 
reduce both nations to submission." 

For a time he worked without a word, then : 

"But when France — in all things discerning — 
proclaimed the truth, America — still blind — hastened 
to shout that she, too, saw the light, and poured 
forth adulation ad nauseam." 

" But would you say that Americans are as dense 
as the English?" 

" Heaven forbid that the Englishman's one un- 
deniable superiority be challenged ; but an English- 
man is so honest in his stupidity that one loves him 
for the — virtue ; whereas the American is a ' smart 
Aleck' in his ignorance, and therefore intolerable." 

But that was years ago, when the unconverted 
were more numerous on this side, — there are still a 
number of stubborn dissenters, but in the chorus 
of praise their voices are scarce more than a few 
discordant notes. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

Of late Whistler had but little cause to complain 
of lack of appreciation on this side, — for, while an art 
so subtle as his is bound to be more or less misun- 
derstood, critics, amateurs, and a goodly portion of 
the public have for a long time acknowledged his 
greatness as an etcher, a lithographer, and a painter. 
In fact, for at least ten years past his works have 
been gradually coming to this country — where they 
belong. England and Scotland have been searched 
for prints and paintings until the great collections — 
much greater than the public know — of his works 
are here. Some day the American people will be 
made more fully acquainted with the beautiful things 
he has done, many of which have never been seen 
save by a few intimate friends. 

The struggle for recognition was long and bitter, 
— so long and so bitter that it developed in him the 
habits of controversy and whimsical irritability by 
which he was for a generation more widely known 
than through his art. 

When it was once reported that he was going to 
America, he said, " It has been suggested many 
times ; but, you see, I find art so absolutely irritating 
to the people that, really, I hesitate before exas- 
perating another nation." 

To another who asked him when he was coming, 
he answered, with emphasis, "When the duty on art 
is removed." 

The duty on art was a source of constant irrita- 
tion to Whistler, — for, while the works of American 



artists residing abroad are admitted free, the artist 
is compelled to make oaths, invoices, and take out 
consular certificates, and pay the consular fees in line 
with the shipper of olive oil and cheese. 

There was even a time, under the present law, 
when the works of American painters were not ad- 
mitted free. The law reads, the works of American 
artists " residing temporarily abroad" shall be ad- 
mitted free, etc. 

Some department at Washington made an off- 
hand ruling that if an American artist had resided 
more than five years abroad his works would be 
subject to duty as those of a foreigner, thereby 
expatriating with a stroke of the pen four-fifths of 
the Americans who are working like dogs — but as 
artists — to make the world beautiful. 

To Whistler, Sargent, and the many prosperous 
ones the ruling did not greatly matter, but to the 
younger men who could not earn money enough to 
get home it did matter, and for a time it looked as 
if American art in Europe would be obliterated, — for 
American art in Europe depends for its support and 
aggressiveness on the American artists over there. 
Drive these men home, or expatriate them, so as to 
compel them to cast their lots with France, or Eng- 
land, or Italy, and what would become of those 
American sections in foreign exhibitions which for 
at least a dozen years past have commanded the 
serious consideration of all thoughtful observers as 
containing elements of strength, sobriety, and prom- 
ise found nowhere else in the entire world of art? 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

Happily an appeal to the Secretary of the Treas- 
ury — a man interested in art — resulted in an imme- 
diate reversal of the ruling, and the works of 
American artists come in free unless the artist de- 
clares his intention of residing abroad permanently. 

But while the ban on American painting is lifted, 
sculpture is in a bad way. Under the law only 
sculpture "wrought by hand" from marble or 
metal by the sculptor is to be classed as art. Inas- 
much as the sculptor never did work bronze by hand, 
and nowadays very rarely touches the marble, 
there is no sculpture which comes within the law. 
The federal courts of New York, high and low, 
have soberly held that unless it is shown that bronzes 
are "wrought by hand" by the sculptor, instead of 
cast from plaster, which in turn is made from the 
clay, they are commercial products and classed with 
bronze cooking utensils at forty-five per cent. duty. 
However, a federal judge in Chicago, somewhat 
more familiar with art processes, has held that the 
New York decisions are arrant nonsense, and orig- 
inal bronzes by Rodin, St. Gaudens, and other 
sculptors, made in the only known way of producing 
bronzes, should be classed as art. What other 
federal courts may hold — each, under our wonderful 
system, having the right to its opinion until the 
Supreme Court is called upon to finally end the dif- 
ferences — Heaven alone knows ; but for the present 
it behooves lovers of art to bring in their original 
bronzes and marbles by way of Chicago. 

These were some of the things Whistler — in 


common with many an ordinary man — could not 

A few years ago an effort was made to have an 
exhibition of his pictures in Boston. He was ap- 
pealed to, but refused : 

" God bless me, why should you hold an exhi- 
bition of pictures in America ? The people do not 
care for art." 

"How do you know? You have not been there 
for many years." 

" How do I know ! Why, haven't you a law to 
keep out pictures and statues ? Is it not in black 
and white that the works of the great masters must 
not enter America, that they are not wanted " 

"But " 

"There are no ' buts' about it except the fool 
who butts his head against the barrier you have 
erected. A people that tolerates such a law has no 
love for art, — their protestation is mere pretence." 

That a great nation should deliberately discourage 
the importation of beautiful things, should wallow 
in the mire of ugliness and refuse to be cleansed by 
art, was to him a mystery, — for what difference does 
it make whether painting, poetry, and music come 
out of the East or out of the West, so long as they 
add to the happiness of a people ? And why should 
painting and sculpture find the gate closed when 
poetry and music are admitted ? 

He did not know the petty commercial consider- 
ations which control certain of the painters and 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

sculptors and some of the institutions supposed to 
be devoted to art. 

For is not art the most "infant" of all the " infant 
industries" of this great commercial nation? And 
should not the brush-worker at home be given his 
meed of protection against the pauper brush-workers 
of Europe — even against Rembrandt and Velasquez 
and all the glorious Italians? 

Beethoven and Mendelssohn and Mozart, Shake- 
speare and Milton, — their works, even their original 
manuscripts, if in existence, though costly beyond 
many paintings, come in without let or hinderance ; 
but the work of the painter, the original manuscript 
of the poet in line, of the composer of harmonies 
in color, may not cross the border without tribute. 

A symphony in sound is welcomed ; a symphony 
in color is rejected. Why this discrimination in 
favor of the ear and against the eye ? 

There is no reason, but an inordinate amount of 
selfishness, in it all. The wire-pulling painter at 
home, backed up by the commercially-managed art 
institution, makes himself felt in the chambers at 
Washington where tariffs are arranged, and paint- 
ing and sculpture are removed from the free list and 
placed among the pots and kettles of commerce. 

Where is the poet and where is the musician in 
this distribution of advantages ? Why should Ameri- 
can poetry and American music be left to compete 
with the whole world while American painting and 
American sculpture are suitably encouraged by a 
tariff of twenty per cent. ? — a figure fixed, no doubt, 



as is the plea, to make good the difference in wages, 
— pauper labor of Europe, — pauper artists. Alas ! 
too true ; shut the vagabonds out that their aristo- 
cratic American confreres residing at home may 
maintain their " standard of living." 

Of all the peoples on the face of the globe, high 
and low, civilized and savage, there is just one that 
discourages the importation of the beautiful, and that 
one happens to be the youngest and the richest of 
all — the one most in need of what it wilfully ex- 

Notwithstanding all these reasons for not coming, 
he had a great desire to visit this country, and in 
letters to friends on this side he would again and 
again express his firm intention to come the follow- 
ing summer or winter, as the season might be. The 
death of Mrs. Whistler, some six years ago, and his 
own ill health prevented, — but there was no lack of 

Strangely enough, he did take a sailing-ship for 
South America, away back in the sixties, and while 
there painted the " Crepuscule in Flesh Color and 
Green; Valparaiso" and the " Nocturne Blue and 
Gold ; Valparaiso." 

Speaking of the voyage, he said : 

" I went out in a slow sailing-ship, the only passenger. 
During the voyage I made quite a number of sketches and 
painted one or two sea-views, — pretty good things I thought 
at the time. Arriving in port, I gave them to the purser to 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

take back to England for me. On my return, some time later, 
I did not find the package, and made inquiries for the purser. 
He had changed ships and disappeared entirely. Many years 
passed, when one day a friend, visiting my studio, said : 

" * By the way, I saw some marines by you in the oddest 
place you can imagine. ' 

" 'Where?' I asked, amazed. 

" ' I happened in the room of an old fellow who had once 
been a purser on a South American ship, and while talking 
with him saw tacked up on the wall several sketches which 
I recognized as yours. I looked at them closely, and asked 
the fellow where he got them. 

" ' " Oh, these things," he said ; " why, a chap who went 
out with us once painted them on board, off-hand like, and 
gave them to me. Don't amount to much, do they ?" 

" ' "Why, man, they are by Whistler." 

" * "Whistler," he said, blankly. "Who's Whistler?" 

" ' "Why, Whistler the artist, — the great painter." 

" ' " Whistler, Whistler. I believe that was his name. But 
that chap warn't no painter. He was just a swell who went 
out with the captain ; he thought he could paint some, and 
gave me those things when we got to Valparaiso. No, I 
don't care to let them go, — for, somehow or other, they look 
more like the sea than real pictures. 

Whistler made several attempts to find these 
sketches, but without success. 

As illustrating his facility of execution when time 
pressed, he painted the " Crepuscule in Flesh Color 
and Green," which is a large canvas and one of his 
best things, at a single sitting, having prepared his 
colors in advance of the chosen hour. 

He could paint with the greatest rapidity when 
out-of-doors and it was important to catch certain 
effects of light and color. 



In 1894 he exhibited in Paris three small marines 
which were marvels of clearness, force, and pre- 
cision ; he had painted them in a few hours while in 
a small boat, which the boatman steadied against the 
waves as best he could. He placed the canvas 
against the seat in front of him and worked away 
direct from nature. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 


A Family of Soldiers — Grandfather founded Chi- 
cago — Birth — St. Petersburg — West Point — 
Coast Survey — His Military Spirit. 

He came of a race of fighters. The family is 
found towards the end of the fifteenth century in 
Oxfordshire, at Goring and Whitechurch on the 
Thames ; one branch was connected with the Web- 
sters of Battle-Abbey, and descendants still live in 
the vicinity ; another branch is in Essex, and from 
this sprang Dr. Daniel Whistler, President of the 
College of Physicians in London in the time of 
Charles the Second, and described as "a quaint 
gentleman of rare humor," and frequently men- 
tioned in " Pepys's Diary." 

From the Oxfordshire branch, one Ralph, a son 
of Hugh Whistler of Goring, went to Ireland and 
founded the Irish branch from which sprang Major 
John Whistler, the first representative of the family 
in America, and grandfather of the painter. 

Major Whistler was a British soldier under Bur- 
goyne, and was taken prisoner at the battle of 
Saratoga. At the close of the war he returned to 
England and made a runaway match with the 
daughter of a Sir Edward Bishop. 



Returning to this country with his wife, he settled 
at Hagerstown, Maryland, and soon after enlisted in 
the American army. 

" He was made a sergeant-major in a regiment 
that was called 'the infantry regiment' Afterwards 
he was adjutant of Garther's regiment of the levies 
of 1 79 1, which brought him into General St Clair's 
command. He was severely wounded November 
4, 1 79 1, in a battle with the Indians on the Miami 
River. In 1792 'the regiment of infantry' was, by 
Act of Congress, designated as the ' First Regiment,' 
and to this John Whistler was assigned as first lieu- 
tenant. In November, 1796, he was promoted to 
the adjutancy, and in July, 1797, he was commis- 
sioned a captain." 

While captain of the " First Regiment," then 
stationed at Detroit, he was, in 1803, ordered to 
proceed to the present site of the city of Chicago 
and construct Fort Dearborn. 

He and his command arrived on August 17, at 
two o'clock in the afternoon, and at once staked out 
the ground and began the erection of palisades for 
protection against the Indians. 

The captain had with him at the time one son, 
William, who was a lieutenant in the army, and who 
was commander of Fort Dearborn in 1833, when 
the fort was finally abandoned as a military post 
Another son, John, remained in the East. 

On the completion of the fort the captain brought 
out the remaining members of his family, — his wife, 
five daughters, and his third son, George, then but 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

three years old, and afterwards the father of the 

"The daughters were Sarah, who married James 
Abbott, of Detroit, — the ceremony took place in the 
fort, shortly after the family came ; the wedding-trip 
was made to Detroit on horseback, over an Indian 
trail and the old territorial road ; they had two 
nights of camping out ; their effects were carried on 
pack-horses, — Ann, married Major Marsh, of the 
army ; Catherine, married Major Hamilton, of the 
army ; Harriet, married Captain Phelan, also of the 
army ; Caroline — eight months old when her father 
built Fort Dearborn — was married in Detroit, in 
1840, to William R. Wood, of Sandwich, Georgia." 

When the army was reduced in June, 181 5, 
Major Whistler was retired, and in 18 18 appointed 
military storekeeper at Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis. 
He died at Bellefontaine, Missouri, in 1827. "He 
was a brave officer and became the progenitor of a 
line of brave and efficient soldiers." 

To a visitor from Chicago the artist once said : 

" Chicago, dear me, what a wonderful place ! I 
really ought to visit it some day, — for, you know, 
my grandfather founded the city and my uncle was 
the last commander of Fort Dearborn." 

George Washington Whistler, the father of the 
painter, became an engineer of great reputation, 
rose to the rank of major, and in 1842 accepted the 
invitation of Czar Nicholas to superintend the con- 
struction of the St. Petersburg and Moscow Railroad, 



and it is said that, with the exception of John Quincy 
Adams, no American in Russia was held in such 
high estimation. 

Major Whistler has been described as a very- 
handsome man ; he had rather long curling hair 
which framed a most agreeable face. " He might 
have been taken for an artist, rather than for a 
military engineer. Yet he was, in every sense, a 
manly man, with most attractive expression and 

Whistler's mother — his father's second wife — was 
Anna Mathilda McNeill, a daughter of Dr. C. D. 
McNeill, of Wilmington, North Carolina. 

So much for the stock from which Whistler sprang, 
a line of able men and good fighters. In a round- 
about way he must have inherited some of the traits 
of that "quaint gentleman of rare humor" so fre- 
quently mentioned by garrulous Samuel Pepys, who 
says in one place, " Dr. Whistler told a pretty story. 
. . . Their discourse was very fine ; and if I should 
be put out of my office, I do take great content in 
the liberty I shall be at of frequenting these gentle- 
men's company." 

It is reported that Whistler once stated he was 
born in St. Petersburg, and he certainly seemed to 
take delight in mystifying people as to the date and 
place of his birth, — part of his habitual indifference 
to the sober requirements of those solemn meta- 
physical entities Time and Space. 

One friend has insisted in print upon Baltimore 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

as his birthplace, another upon Stonington, Con- 

His model once asked him : 

" Where were you born?" 

" I never was born, my child ; I came from on 

Quite unabashed, the model retorted : 

"Now, that shows how easily we deceive our- 
selves in this world, for I should say you came from 

The Salon catalogue of 1882 referred to him as 
"McNeill Whistler, born in the United States." 

His aversion to discussing dates, the lapse of years, 
the time it would take to paint a portrait, or do any- 
thing else, amounted to a superstition. 

For him time did not exist. He did not carry a 
watch, and no obtrusive clock was to be seen or 
heard anywhere about him. He did not believe in 
mechanical devices for nagging and prompting much- 
goaded humanity. If he were invited to dinner, it 
was always the better part of wisdom to order the 
dinner at least a half-hour later than the moment 
named in the invitation. 

He once had an engagement to dine with some 
distinguished people in a distant part of London. 
A friend who wished to be on time was waiting for 
him in the studio. It was growing late, but Whistler 
kept on painting, more and more absorbed. 

"My dear fellow," his friend urged at last, "it is 

frightfully late, and you have to dine with Lady . 

Don't you think you'd better stop ?" 



"Stop?" fairly shrieked Whistler. "Stop, when 
everything is going so beautifully? Go and stuff 
myself with food when I can paint like this ? Never ! 
Never ! Besides, they won't do anything until I get 
there, — they never do !" 

An official connected with an international art 
exhibition was about to visit Paris to consult with 
the artists. To save time, he sent notes ahead 
making appointments at his hotel with the different 
men at different hours. To Whistler he sent a note 
fixing a day at "4. 30 precisely," whereupon Whist- 
ler regretfully replied : 

" Dear Sir : I have received your letter announcing that 
you will arrive in Paris on the — th. I congratulate you. I 
never have been able, and never shall be able, to be any- 
where at ' 4. 30 precisely. ' 

' ' Yours most faithfully, 

"J. McN. Whistler." 

To the stereotyped inquiry of the sitter : 

"About how many sittings do you require, Mr. 

" Dear me, how can I tell ? Perhaps one, per- 
haps — more." 

" But — can't you give me some idea, so I can 
arrange " 

"Bless me, but you must not permit the doing 
of so trivial a thing as a portrait to interfere with 
the important affairs of life. We will just paint in 
those odd moments when you have nothing better 
to do." 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

"Suppose I am compelled to leave the city before 
it is finished?" 

"You will return next summer, and we will re- 
sume where we left off, as the continued-story-teller 
says. ' ' 

And no amount of persuasion could get him to 
say when he expected to finish a work. 

He would frequently say : 

"We will just go ahead as if there were one long 
holiday before us, without thinking of the end, and 
some day, when we least expect it, the picture is 
finished ; but if we keep thinking of the hours in- 
stead of the work, it may never come to an end." 

This indifference to time kept him young — to the 
very last. He persistently refused to note the flight 
of years. 

There was once a very old Indian, how old no 
one knew, in Northern Michigan who, when asked 
his age by the pertinaciously curious, always replied, 
" I do not count the years ; white people do — and 

His father went to Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1834 
to take charge of the construction of the canals and 
locks. He resided in a house on Worthen Street, 
and there Whistler was born on July 10. 

In a history of Lowell it is stated that Whistler 
was probably born in what was known as the Paul 
Moody house, a fine old house which stood on the 
site of the present city hall ; but quite possibly the 
family occupied a house owned by the proprietors 



of the locks and canals, which still stands and is 
pointed out as the " Locks and Canal house." 

The old parish book of St Anne's Episcopal 
Church contains the following entry under 1834 : 

" Nov. 9, Baptized James Abbott, infant son of 
George Washington and Anna Mathilda Whistler. 
Sponsors, the parents. T. Edson." 

Rev. Theodore Edson was the rector of the church. 

The adoption of his mother's maiden name, 
McNeill, as part of his own was apparently an after- 

He had two brothers, William and Kirke, a half- 
brother, George, and a half-sister, Deborah, who 
married Seymour Haden, the well-known physician 
and etcher, who figures in "Gentle Art" as the " Sur- 
geon-etcher." Of the brothers, Kirke died young, 
George remained in this country, William became a 
well-known physician in London, dying a few years 

The family afterwards spent a short time in Ston- 
ington, where Major Whistler had charge of the con- 
struction of the railroad to Providence. They used 
to drive to church in Westerly in a chaise fitted 
with railway wheels, so as to travel on the tracks. 
There were no Sunday trains in those days, so the 
track was clear. An ingenious device enabled the 
horse to cross the culverts. 

A locomotive named "Whistler" after the dis- 
tinguished engineer — a felicitous name — was in use 
until comparatively few years ago. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

In the spring of 1840 Major Whistler was ap- 
pointed consulting engineer for the Western Rail- 
road, running from Springfield to Albany, and the 
family moved to Springfield and lived in what " is 
now known as Ethan Chapin homestead, on Chestnut 
Street, north of Edwards Street" 

Old residents of the vicinity claim to remember 
" well the curly locks and bright, animated counte- 
nance of the boy," and that the three boys "were 
always full of mischief," — not an uncommon trait 
in youngsters, probably still less uncommon in Whist- 

Shortly after the railroad to Albany was opened a 
wreck occurred, and a niece of Major Whistler, who 
was on her way to visit him, was badly injured. She 
was taken to his house, and it was a long time before 
she recovered. 

The accident made a strong impression on Whist- 
ler, and possibly accounts for some of the dislike he 
often showed towards travelling alone. It was only 
in crossing crowded streets and in the confusion and 
bustle of travel that he showed what might be called 

With characteristic gallantry he would offer a lady 
his arm to aid her in crossing the Strand or the 
Boulevard, but he made sure of the places of refuge 
and took no chances ; if in a hurry, she would better 
cross alone. 

Once, not many years ago, he was at Dieppe, and 
wrote a friend in Paris almost daily that he would be 
in the city to see him. A week passed, and the 
3 33 


friend, fearing he would be obliged to leave without 
seeing Whistler, wrote him he would come to Dieppe 
and see the work he was doing there, to which sug- 
gestion Whistler replied most cordially by wire. 

The friend packed and went, expecting to stay a 
night or two at least ; but, lo ! Whistler, bag in hand, 
met him in the village to take the next train back ; 
whereupon the friend, much surprised, said : 

" If you intended going to Paris to-day, why 
under the sun did you let me ride half a day to get 
here ?" 

"Well, you see, I don't like to travel alone ; happy 
thought yours to come down after me." 

And back they went, after a delightful luncheon in 
that little old restaurant near the cathedral, where 
there is an ancient stone trough filled with water for 
cooling and cleaning vegetables. The luncheon, the 
way it was ordered, and the running fire of comment 
and directions by Whistler to the stout old woman 
who did it all, were worth the journey to Dieppe. 

Whistler will be mourned more by these lowly 
people who used to serve him with pleasure, because 
he took such a vital interest in what they did, than 
by many who own his works. 

A diary kept by the artist's mother contains this 
entry, under date of July 10, 1844 : 

"A poem selected by my darling Jamie, and put 
under my plate at the breakfast- table, as a surprise 
on his tenth birthday." 

The little poem of twelve lines was addressed 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

"To My Mother," and subscribed "Your Little 

When the boy was eleven years old, Sir William 
Allen, a Scotch painter, visited the family. Mrs. 
Whistler's diary contains the following entry : 

"The chat then turned upon the subject of Sir William 
Allen's painting of Peter the Great teaching the majiks to 
make ships. This made Jimmie's eyes express so much 
interest that his love for the art was discovered, and Sir 
William must needs see his attempts. When my boys had 
said good-night, the great artist remarked to me, ' Your little 
boy has uncommon genius, but do not urge him beyond his 
inclination.' I told him his gift had only been cultivated as 
an amusement, and that I was obliged to interfere, or his ap- 
plication would confine him more than we approved." 

The diary records the same year a visit to the old 
palace at Peterhoff, where " our Jimmie was so saucy 
as to laugh" at Peter's own paintings. 

When Major Whistler first went to Russia he left 
"Jamie" for a time in Stonington with his aunt, 
and the two older children, George and Deborah, in 

After the death of Major Whistler, in St. Peters- 
burg, in 1849, the wife and children returned to this 
country, and lived for a time in Connecticut. 

Whistler wished to enter West Point, and he per- 
suaded his half-brother to write Daniel Webster, 
to enlist his sympathy. The letter was dated Febru- 
ary 19, 1 85 1. It referred to the father's career and 



services and asked that James be appointed to the 

He was appointed by President Fillmore, and 
entered July I, 185 1, registering from Pomfret, 
Windham County, Connecticut, where his mother 
was then living. 

Whistler was so small in stature and physique that 
it is surprising he was received ; the military record 
of his family was no doubt the controlling considera- 

He possessed all the pugnacity and courage re- 
quired for a soldier, and the military spirit was strong 
in him, yet such was his bent towards art that his 
career at the Academy was not one of glory ; but he 
became very popular with his comrades and proba- 
bly led in all their mischievous pranks. 

The official records show that at the end of the 
first year, in 1852, he stood forty-one in a class of 
fifty-two, — his standing in the different studies being 
as follows: Mathematics 47, English studies 51, 
French 9. At the end of his second year he stood 
number one in drawing, but was not examined in 
other studies, being absent with leave on account 
of ill health. In 1854 his standing was as follows : 
Philosophy 39, Drawing 1, Chemistry deficient. 
For his deficiency in chemistry he was discharged 
from the Academy on June 16, 1854. 

A lady once asked him why he left the Academy, 
and he replied : 

" If silicon had been a gas, madame, I should have 
been a soldier." 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

On leaving West Point he took it into his head 
that Fate had intended him for a sailor, and he tried 
to enter the Naval Academy at Annapolis, but he 
could not get the appointment. 

Through an old friend of the family, Captain Ben- 
ham, of the Coast and Geodetic Survey, he was 
employed as draughtsman in that department in 
Washington from November 7, 1854, to February 
12, 1855, at one dollar and a half a day. In these 
days he signed himself James A. Whistler. His 
lodgings were in an old house still standing on the 
northeast corner of E and Twelfth Streets. He was 
always late to breakfast, and scribbled pictures on 
the unpapered walls. When the landlord objected, 
he said : 

" Now, now, never mind ; I'll not charge you any- 
thing for the decoration." 

Neither time nor the rules of the department had 
any terrors for him. Even in those early days he 
was a law unto himself. In one instance the fol- 
lowing entry appears against his name : 

"Two days absent and two days deducted from 
monthly pay for time lost by coming late to 

To correct these dilatory habits Captain Benham 
conceived the brilliant idea of having a fellow-clerk 
of punctual habits call each morning for Whistler 
and bring him to the office on time. The captain 
believed that the example and influence of a more 
methodical companion would reform the erring one 
and get him to the office at nine o'clock; but it 



turned out quite otherwise, for Whistler proved so 
charming a host each morning that both were late. 

At the end of a week the mentor reported that 
his efforts were wasted and unless relieved he, too, 
would acquire the obnoxious habit, for each morning 
Whistler managed to so interest him in the mysteries 
of coffee-making and the advantages of late break- 
fasts that it was impossible to get away. 

Of him and his habits in those days a fellow- 
draughtsman, 1 who is still in the service, says : 

• ' He was about one year younger than myself, and there- 
fore about twenty years old at that time. He stayed but a 
little over three months, and I have not met him since, but 
retain a more vivid recollection of his sojourn than of that 
of many other draughtsmen who succeeded him and remained 
much longer. This may be partly for the reason that Cap- 
tain Benham, who was then in charge of the office, told me 
that Whistler's father had been a star graduate of West 
Point and a distinguished engineer, and requested me to be 
attentive to the new appointee ; it may also be for the reason 
that there was something peculiar about Whistler's person 
and actions quite at variance with the ordinary run of my 

"His style of dress indicated an indifference to fashion 
which, under circumstances, might be changed into emanci- 
pation when fashion, for instance, went into extremes and 
exacted personal discomforts. I certainly cannot remember 
Whistler with a high-standing collar and silk hat, which was 
then the universal custom. Classical models seemed to be 
his preference, a short circular cloak and broad-brimrned 
felt hat gave him a finish which reminded one of some of 

1 Mr. A. Lindenkohl, now the oldest draughtsman in the 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

Rembrandt's celebrated portraits. His tout ensemble had a 
strong tinge of Bohemianism which suggested that his tastes 
and habits had been acquired in Paris, or, more concisely 
speaking, in the Ouartier Latin ; indeed, he always spoke of 
Paris with enthusiasm. His manners were those of an easy 
self-reliance which conveyed the impression that he was a 
man who minded his own business, but that it would not be 
exactly safe to cross his paths. 

"At the time of his engagement as draughtsman at the 
office not the slightest doubt was entertained of his skill and 
ability to fill his post, and it was the principal concern of 
Captain Benham to get him sufficiently interested in his 
work to engage his serious attention. It was, however, soon 
apparent that he considered topographical drawing as a 
•tiresome drudgery, and when he was put on etching views 
on copper plate, this occupation, although more congenial to 
his tastes, was yet too monotonous and mechanical and did 
not afford sufficient scope to his peculiar talent for sketching 
off-hand figures and to make him feel contented. Any odd 
moment he could snatch from his work he was busy in 
throwing off his impromptu compositions on the margins of 
his drawings or plate ; odd characters, such as monks, knights, 
beggars, seemed to be his favorites. He was equally skilful 
with pen and ink, pencil, brush and sepia after the Spanish 
style, or dry point in the English, and often I was struck by 
the facility and rapidity with which he evolved his inventions, 
there never was the shadow of a dilemma or even hesitancy. 

" From the very start he never was punctual in attendance, 
and as time wore on he would absent himself for days and 
weeks without tendering any excuse. As far as I remember, 
nobody, except Captain Benham, cared to speak to Whistler 
about his irregularity, for the reason that it was certain that 
no thanks would be earned and that it would not have made 
the slightest difference in his habits. Howsoever that may 
have been, Colonel Porterfield, the clerk, was a strict ac- 
countant, and his monthly reports told the whole story. 



Thus in one month two days were deducted from Whistler's 
pay for time lost in coming late to office, and in January, 
1855, he was credited with but six and one-half days' work, 
which reduced his scant pay to a mere pittance. 

' ' Under these circumstances three months were quite suf- 
ficient length of time for Whistler and the office to realize 
that the employment of Whistler as a draughtsman was an 
experiment destined to be a failure, and I do not think that 
a trace of ill feeling was retained when it was concluded by 
both parties to effect a separation and let each one go his 
own way." 

At that time Edward de Stoeckl was charge 
d'affaires of the Russian embassy. He had known 
Major Whistler in St. Petersburg, and he took a 
great fancy to his son. 

One day Whistler invited him to dinner, and this 
is the account of what happened : 

• ' Whistler engaged a carriage and called for his distin- 
guished friend. As they drove on, Whistler turned to the 
diplomat and asked him if he would object to their stopping 
at several places on the way. M. de Stoeckl, amused at the 
unconventionality of the request, assented, and his young 
host then directed the coachman to a greengrocer's, a con- 
fectioner's, a tobacconist's, and to several other tradesmen. 

' ' After visiting each of these he would reappear with his 
arms filled with packages, which he deposited on the vacant 
seat of the carriage. At last the two brought up at Whistler's 
lodgings. After a climb up many stairs the representative 
of the Czar of all the Russias found himself in Whistler's 

"Quite out of breath, he was obliged to sit down, too 
exhausted to speak, during which time Whistler flitted hither 
and thither, snipping a lettuce into shape for the salad, dry- 
ing the oysters, browning the biscuit, preparing the cheese, 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

and in an incredibly short time setting a sumptuous repast 
before his astonished guest, who was delighted with the 
unique hospitality of the host." 

A comrade in office describes Whistler's appear- 
ance in those days : 

" He was very handsome, graceful, dressed in good taste, 
with a leaning towards the style of the artist in the selection 
of his clothing. His hair was a blue-black and worn very 
long, and the bushy appearance seemed to give one the 
impression that each separate hair was curled. Always at 
this time he wore a large slouch hat and a loose coat, gen- 
erally unbuttoned, and thrown back so that the waistcoat was 
plainly seen." 

He never changed very much from that descrip- 
tion, save that his hair became slightly gray, and 
one lock directly over the forehead turned com- 
pletely white very prematurely. To this white lock 
Whistler took a great fancy, and it is visible in the 
portraits and drawings he made of himself. His 
hair was naturally very curly, — an inheritance from 
his father, — and out of the mass of black curls the 
white lock would spring with almost uncanny effect. 

To the very end he was extremely fastidious in 
his dress. In the days when threadbare coats were 
a luxury he wore them spotlessly clean, and carried 
old and worn garments in such a manner that they 
appeared as if made for the occasion. 

In his studio and while at work he was never 
mussy or untidy ; he had more than a woman's 
notion of neatness. 



He was not only very careful of his clothes, but 
they must be buttoned and adjusted just so before 
he would make his appearance. On him a frock 
coat was never stiff and ungraceful, and somehow 
he managed to dissipate the dreary formality of 
evening dress. It was always a pleasure to see him 
enter a room ; while on the street he was, in his 
earlier London days, exceedingly picturesque. 

He was very particular concerning his hats. In 
the latter Paris days he always wore a most care- 
fully-brushed silk hat with flat brim, — the Quartier- 
Latin type. This, with his monocle — for on the street 
he wore a monocle — and his long overcoat, made 
him an exceedingly striking figure. 

One day he was in a shop, trying on a hat, when 
a dissatisfied customer rushed in, and, mistaking him 
for some one in charge, said : 

"I say, this 'at doesn't fit." 

Eyeing him critically a moment, Whistler said : 

" Neither does your coat." 

Whistler was thoroughly imbued with the military 
spirit ; and if he had not been a great artist he would 
have made a good officer. He was born to com- 
mand, and possessed physical courage of a high order. 

In stature and physique he was short and very 
slight, — could not have weighed more than one hun- 
dred and thirty pounds ; but he was so perfectly 
proportioned that one did not notice his size except 
when in sharp contrast with others. Notwithstand- 
ing his inferiority in size and strength, he never in 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

his life had the slightest hesitation in striking a man 
— even at the risk of annihilation — if he deemed the 
occasion required it. 

A good many years ago the editor of a gossipy 
sheet in London, called the Hazvk, printed some 
items of a personal nature which Whistler resented. 
Not knowing the editor by sight, Whistler took a 
friend to point him out in the foyer of one of the 
London theatres. Although the man was a giant 
compared with Whistler, the latter, without a 
moment's hesitation, went up to him and struck 
him across the face with a cane, saying with each 
blow, "Hawk, Hawk, Hawk." 

The editor afterwards boasted that he imme- 
diately knocked Whistler down. Whistler claimed 
he slipped and fell ; but, he said : 

' ' What difference does it make whether he knocked me 
down or whether I slipped ? The fact is he was publicly 
caned, and what happened afterwards could not offset the 
publicity and nature of this chastisement. A gentleman 
lightly strikes another in the face with a glove ; the bully 
thinks the insult is wiped out if he knocks some one down — 
the ethics of the prize ring ; but according to the older 
notions the gentleman knows that the soft touch of the glove 
cannot be effaced by a blow of the fist, — for if it could, supe- 
riority in weight would render the cad and the bully immune. 
The historical fact is that I publicly drew my cane across his 
face ; no one cares anything about his subsequent ragings, or 
whether I slipped and fell, or whether he trampled upon me. ' ' 

Again, when an artist went up to him in the 
Hogarth Club in London and called him a liar and 
a coward, Whistler promptly slapped his face. 



So far as controversies with opponents were con- 
cerned, he was courageous to the point of indiffer- 
ence ; but, as already noted, in crossing busy streets 
and making his way through the hurly-burly of city 
life he was as careful, not to say timid, as a woman ; he 
had many superstitions which influenced his actions. 

One afternoon he said to a sitter : 

" To-morrow, you know, we won't work." 

"Why not?" 

" Well, you see, it's Friday ; and last Friday, you 
remember, what a bad time we had, — accomplished 
nothing. An unlucky day anyway. We'll take a 
holiday to-morrow." 

The military spirit clung to him through life, and 
he was ever in the habit of referring to his experi- 
ence at West Point as if it were the one entirely 
satisfactory episode in his career. He called him- 
self a "West-Pointer," and insisted that the Academy 
was the one institution in the country the superiority 
of which to everything of its kind in the world was 
universally admitted. 

"Why, you know, West Point is America." 

Though living in Paris at the time and the sym- 
pathy of all France was with Spain, he lost no op- 
portunity for upholding the United States in the war. 
He could see no flaw in the attitude or the diplomacy 
of this country, and was especially eloquent over the 
treatment of Admiral Cervera after his defeat. 

On the other hand, such was his ingrained dislike 
for England that he lost no opportunity for declaiming 



OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

against her war in South Africa. He delighted in 
berating the English and in prodding any English 
sympathizer who happened in his way. 

One day a friend from this side, of Irish birth, but 
who sided with England, was in his studio, and the 
discussion waxed warm until the visitor said : 

"I'll be dashed if I'll talk with you, Whistler. 
What do you know about the matter? Nothing at all." 

After a short silence, Whistler said : 

" But, I say, C , do you remember how the 

Boers whipped the Dublin Fusileers?" 

Whereupon the air became sulphurous. 

The friend afterwards remarked : 

" There was nothing in the malicious innuendo 
anyway, for, you know, those regiments are recruited 
from all quarters, and there may not have been a single 
Irishman in the Fusileers at the time of the fight." 

Whistler held some extraordinary opinions con- 
cerning the Dreyfus case, the outcome of his strong 
military bias. 

It did not matter to him whether the accused was 
guilty or not, the prestige of the army must be main- 
tained, even at the sacrifice of the innocent, — the view 
which led the military section of France to such 
violent extremes against Dreyfus, — and Whistler re- 
sented the assaults upon the army as treachery to 
the most sacred institution of the state. 

To the civilian this military bias which leads men 
in all countries to such extremes in judgments and 
actions is incomprehensible. The attitude of the 



military mind towards the ordinary problems of 
life, towards the faults and failings of men, towards 
petty transgressions and disobediences, towards rank, 
routine, and discipline, towards the courtesies and 
sympathies and affections which are the leavening 
influences of life, cannot be understood by the lay 
mind. The soldier's training and occupation are 
such that he does not think, feel, and act as an ordi- 
nary man ; his standards, convictions, and ethics are 
fundamentally different ; so different that he requires 
his own territory, his own laws, and his own tri- 
bunals. With the soldier the maxim of ordinary 
justice that it is better that ten guilty should go free 
than one innocent be condemned is reversed. 

By birth, by tradition, by association, Whistler 
was thoroughly saturated with this spirit ; and it 
affected his conduct and his attitude towards people 
throughout his life. It accounts for much of the im- 
patience, the arrogance, the intolerance, the combat- 
iveness, the indifference to the feelings of others with 
which he is charged, or rather overcharged, for much 
of what is said is exaggeration. 

No man can be reared in an atmosphere of au- 
thority and blind obedience to authority without 
losing something of that give-and-take spirit which 
softens life's asperities. 

Therefore, in any estimate of Whistler's character 
and of his conduct towards others, the influence of 
these very unusual early associations and conditions 
must be taken into account and due allowance made. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 


An American — The Puritan Element — Attitude of 
England and France — Racial and Universal 
Qualities in Art — Art- Loving Nations. 

Of Whistler's innate and aggressive Americanism 
this is the place to speak. 

English in origin, the family became Irish and 
then American. In blood he was doubly removed 
from England, first by Irish progenitors, then by 
American, and in his entire make-up, physical and 
intellectual, he was so absolutely un-English that to 
the day of his death he was an object of curious 
observation and wondering comment wherever he 
went, in even so cosmopolitan a city as London. 

There was nothing he loved better than to sur- 
prise, mystify, confuse, and confound the stolid 
Briton. And though he lived most of his life in 
Chelsea and came back there to spend his last days, 
he was from the very beginning and remained until 
the end a stranger in a strange land, a solitary soul 
in the midst of an uncongenial, unsympathetic, un- 
appreciative, unloving people. 

So little does England care for him or his art, or, 
more truly, so prejudiced is the nation against him 
as an impertinent interloper, who for more than a 



generation disturbed the serenity of her art house- 
hold, that the National Museum has no example of 
his work. Needless to say, if he had been English, 
or had come from the remotest of England's out- 
lying possessions, English paperdom and English 
officialdom would have claimed him as their own, 
condoned his eccentricities, and bought his works 
with liberal hand. 

During the days of his greatest poverty and dis- 
tress, when even France turned stupidly aside from 
things she soon came to worship, and England was 
jeering clumsily, and all nations repudiated him, — 
our own the loudest of all, — he really seemed to be 
"a man without a country," and, beyond question, 
the injustice, the bitterness of it all entered deep 
into his soul and remained. But whatever the folly, 
the blindness, the stupidity of a country, though it 
seek to cast off a child so brilliant he is not under- 
stood, the ties remain ; however strained, they can- 
not be broken. Nothing that America can do suf- 
fices to make an Englishman or a Frenchman or a 
German out of an American, — the man himself may 
take on a foreign veneer, but beneath the surface he 
belongs where blood and birth have placed him. 

He was infinitely more of an American than thou- 
sands who live at home and ape the manners of 
Europe. He came from a line of ancestors so dis- 
tinctively and aggressively American that he could 
not have turned out otherwise had he tried. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

He was not even an Anglo-American or a Franco- 
American, but of all the types and races which go 
to make the American people he was in blood, ap- 
pearance, alertness, combativeness, wit, and a thou- 
sand and one traits, an exceedingly refined illustra- 
tion of the Irish- American ; and because of his Irish 
blood, with perhaps some Scotch on his mother's 
side, he was never in sympathy with anything Eng- 
lish, but was now and then somewhat in sympathy 
with many things French, though the points of 
sympathetic contact were so slight and superficial 
that he could not live contentedly for any length of 
time in Paris. In his art, his convictions, and his 
conventions he was altogether too profound, too 
serious, too earnest — one might with truth say, too 
puritanical — to find the atmosphere of Paris alto- 
gether congenial. His great portraits might have 
come from the studio of a Covenanter, but never 
from a typical Paris atelier. 

The Puritan element which is to be found in every 
American achievement, whether in war, in art, or in 
literature, though often deeply hidden, is conspicu- 
ous in Whistler's work, though he himself would 
probably have been the first to deny it ; and it is 
this element of sobriety, of steadfastness, of unde- 
viating adherence to convictions and ideals that 
constitutes the firm foundation of his art, of his 
many brilliant and beautiful superstructures of 

i Only a Puritan at heart could have painted the 
4 49 


"Carlyle," "His Mother,'' and that wonderful child 
portrait, " Miss Alexander." 

Only a Puritan at heart could have painted the 
mystery of night with all his tender, loving, religious 

Only a Puritan at heart could have exhibited as 
he did in everything he touched those infinitely pre- 
cious qualities of reserve, of delicacy, of refinement, 
which are the conspicuous characteristics of his work. [ £<k>£ 

Concerning his refinement some one has very truly 
remarked : 

' " He so hated everything ugly or unclean that, even in the 
club smoking-rooms (wfeere one may-sometimes hear rather 
Rabelaisian tales), he never told a story which could not have 
been repeated in the presence of modest women. His per- 
sonal daintiness was extreme^ Threadbare coats on him 
were never shabby. He had to wear too many threadbare 
garments, poor fellow ! for, inasmuch as he put the integrity 
of his art before everything else, he never stooped to make 
those ' pretty' things which would have brought him a for- 
tune, without ^oubt^. 7 He was abstemious in his living, 
^simple lhall that he did, — his exquisite, sure taste preventing 
him from extremes, gaudiness, or untidiness." 

And when he lent his support, some eight years 
ago, to the school kept by Carmen Rossi, who as a 
child had been one of his models, he would not tol- 
erate the study of the nude by mixed classes, and, 
in fact, introduced many rules and restrictions which 
were considered by even American pupils as ''puri- 
tanical" in the extreme, and which the French could 
not understand at all. 



naaao oka yaho m *woi 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

He never painted any large and aggressive nudes, 
such as abound in French art, such as, in a way, may 
be said to characterize French art and mark its atti- 
tude towards life ; but he made many drawings in 
water-color and pastel, and painted some oils, all, 
however, exquisitely refined, the element of the 
nude being in every instance subordinated to the 
artistic scheme and intention. Many of these draw- 
ings have never been exhibited. When seen they 
will go far towards demonstrating the puritanical 
element in Whistler. 

In his intolerance towards the methods, convic- 
tions, and ideals of others he exhibited some of the 
spirit of the Puritan zealot who knows no creed but 
his own. 

Concerning his Americanism, one who knew him 
says : 1 

"Upon the known facts of Whistler's career I do not 
touch. I wish only to underline his Americanism, and 
to offer you one or two personal memories. He was ' an 
American of the Americans,' say the American papers, and 
who shall venture to dispute their dictum ? Not I, certainly. 
Nor would anybody who knew Whistler personally. I knew 
him for many years in London and in Paris. I have many 
letters from him on art and other matters, some of which 
ought to be printed, for his letters to friends were not less 
works of art than those which he composed more carefully 
for print. I have books and drawings which he gave me. 
I mention these things as evidence that I may fairly say 
something about him, at least on the personal side. And I 

1 G. W. Smalley, in the London Times. 



knew on what terms he lived with the so-called art world in 
England, and what his own view of the matter was." 

And an English writer said, some ten years ago i 1 

" It should not be forgotten in America that Mr. Whistler 
is an American of Americans. It may therefore be appro- 
priately asked, What has America done for him ? It has 
treated him with — if possible — even more ignorance than 
England ; this, of course, coming from the desire of the 
Anglomaniac to out-English the English." 

And there are others whose testimony will be 
forthcoming some day to show how wholly and 
absolutely American he was to the very core and 
centre of his being, and in his attitude towards all 
countries and peoples of Europe. 

It is true he said many harsh, bitter, and cutting 
things concerning the press and people of this coun- 
try, that he frequently exhibited in the English sec- 
tions of art exhibitions in preference to those of his 
own country ; but for all these things there were 
many good reasons, and we have but ourselves to 

He was so much of an American that a single 
word of ridicule from this side cut deeper than 
pages of abuse from the other. To the scoffings of 
England he turned a careless ear, and replied with 
flippant, but pointed, tongue ; while the utter lack 
of support and appreciation from his own country 
was ever referred to with a bitterness that betrayed 

1 The Nation, vol. liv., pp. 280-281, April 14, 1892. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

his real feelings. He could not understand how the 
American people could desert a countryman bat- 
tling alone against all England. As he frequently 
said : 

" It did not matter whether I was in the right or 
in the wrong, — I was one against the mob. Why did 
America take the side of the mob, — and — and get 
whipped ?" 

America was blind to his merits until long after 
he achieved fame in every country of Europe ; and 
it is undeniably true that the press here truculently 
echoed the slurs of the critics on the other side 
throughout that long period of controversy. It is a 
lamentable fact that up to the day of his death he 
was misunderstood, or accepted as an eccentric in 
many quarters of the land that now claims him as 
her bright particular star in the firmament of art. 
Notwithstanding all these things, he remained so 
conspicuously an American that every Englishman 
and every Frenchman with whom he came in con- 
tact recognized him as a foreigner ; neither would 
have thought of mistaking him for a fellow-country- 
man ; he was as un-English and un-French as an 
Italian, or a Spaniard, or — better — as an American. 

The "White Girl" was rejected at the Salon in 
1863 ; the " Portrait of my Mother" was accepted 
by the Royal Academy and obscurely hung in 1871, 
only after a bitter discussion, in which the one mem- 
ber of the committee who favored it, Sir William 



Boxall, a friend of Whistler's family, threatened to 
resign unless it was accepted. 

This same great portrait — it is said on good au- 
thority — was offered in New York for twelve hundred 
dollars and found no buyer. 

When exhibited in London, language failed to 
express the full measure of the scorn and contempt 
the English press — from the ponderous Times down 
to the most insignificant fly-sheet — had for this won- 
derful picture ; but no sooner had the French gov- 
ernment purchased it for the Luxembourg than all 
was changed, and with delightful effrontery the 
Illustrated London News said : 

" Modern British (!) art will now be represented 
in the National Gallery of the Luxembourg by 
one of the finest paintings due to the brush of an 
English (!) artist, — namely, Mr. Whistler's portrait 
of his mother." 

The italics and exclamation marks are Whistler's 
own, and his denial of British complicity is complete. 

Aside from Whistler's personality, his art finds its 
only congenial place in the midst of American art. 

That his pictures will not hang in any conceivable 
exhibition of British art without the incongruity 
being painfully perceptible goes without saying, and 
none knows this better than English painters them- 

Of all the various manifestations of art with which 
Whistler's has come in sharp contrast, English paint- 
ing has been the slowest and most stubborn in yield- 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

ing to influences from the far East ; whereas of all 
painters of the nineteenth century Whistler was the 
very first to recognize the wondrous qualities of 
Chinese and Japanese art and absorb what those 
countries had to teach concerning line and color ; 
and in so far as the painters of England, and more 
conspicuously those of Scotland, have learned aught 
of the subtleties and refinements of the East, they 
have learned it through Whistler, and not direct. 

In other words, Whistler has been absolutely im- 
mune to English influences ; there is not the faintest 
trace in any of his works, etchings, lithographs, or 
paintings. In temperament, mood, fancy, and im- 
agination, in what he saw and the manner that he 
painted it, he was as far removed from any " English 
School" as Hokusai himself. 

On the other hand, England for some time has not 
been immune to his influence, and things after — a 
long way after — Whistler appear at every exhibition. 
What is known as the " Glasgow School" — that body 
of able and progressive painters — long ago frankly 
accepted him as master. 

Of English painters dead and living he had a 
poor — possibly too poor — opinion. He frequently 
said, " England never produced but one painter, 
and that was Hogarth." In mellower moments he 
would say not unkind things of certain qualities in 
other men ; towards the living painters who appre- 
ciated his art he was oftentimes generous in the be- 
stowal of praise. But it was impossible for Whistler 
to say a thing was good if he did not think so ; and 



he would exercise all his ingenuity to get out of 
expressing an opinion when he knew his real opinion 
would hurt the feelings of a friend. Towards stran- 
gers and enemies he was often almost brutal in 
condemning what was bad, — as when a rich man took 
him over his new house, dwelling with pride and 
enthusiasm on this extraordinary feature and that, 
at each of which Whistler would exclaim, " Amazing, 
amazing !" until at the end of their tour of the 
rooms and halls, he at last said, "Amazing, — and 
there's no excuse for it !" 

Of his attitude towards others a friendly writer 
said : * 

" He was not a devotee of Turner, but he yielded to no 
man in appreciation of certain of the works of that painter. 
He was not lavish of praise where his contemporaries were 
concerned. Though he could say pleasant things about 
them in a rather vague way, — calling some young painter ' a 
good fellow,' and so on, — words of explicit admiration he 
did not promiscuously bestow. The truth is, there was an 
immense amount of stuff which he saw in the exhibitions 
which he frankly detested. Yet conversation with him did 
not leave the impression that he was a man grudging of 
praise. It was rather that a picture had to be exceptionally 
good to excite his emotions. One point is significant. It 
was not the flashy and popular painter that he invited to 
share in the gatherings for which his Paris studio was noted : 
it was the painter like Puvis de Chavannes, the man who had 
greatness in him." 

New York Tribune, July 26, 1903. 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

That he had nothing in common with English art, 
the English were quick to assert, until his fame made 
him a desirable acquisition, when on this side, and 
that within the last few years, a disposition to claim 
him — very much as the business-like empire seizes 
desirable territory here and there about the globe — 
has begun to show itself; and, unless America is alert, 
Whistler will yet appear in the National Gallery as 
— to quote again the words of the Illustrated News 
— "An English artist." 

As regards the French, they are disposed to claim 
Whistler on three grounds : 

First. That he was a student there, — with a mas- 
ter who taught him nothing. 

Second. That France acknowledged his genius 
by the purchase of the portrait of his mother, — 
twenty years after it was painted, and seven after it 
was exhibited in Paris. 

Third. That he lived for a time in Paris. 

Three reasons which would annex to France about 
every American artist of note, for most of them (i) 
studied in France, (2) are represented in the Luxem- 
bourg, and (3) have lived in Paris much longer than 

As for those first few years in Paris, even the 
French concede that Gleyre was entirely without 
influence upon Whistler's subsequent career. 

As regards the recognition of his genius, France 
was exceedingly slow. The portrait of his mother 




was exhibited in London in 1871, and purchased 
for the Luxembourg in 1891, though it had been 
awarded a medal at the Salon some seven years 

France no more taught Whistler to paint than it 
taught him to etch. His masters were older and 
greater than the art of France. Before he was 
twenty-five he had absorbed all and rejected most 
that France had to teach. At twenty-eight he 
painted a picture which, scorned by the Salon, 
startled all who visited the " Salon des Refuses," 
and then — still under thirty — he shook the dust of 
France from his feet, obliterated every vestige of 
her influence from his art, and started out to make 
his way alone and unaided in the domain of the 

In 1865 he again stirred the critics with that 
novel creation of color "The Princess of the Land 
of Porcelain." Nothing of the kind had ever been 
seen in either French or any other art. It was the 
application of Western methods to Eastern motives ; 
it was plainly a study primarily in color, secondarily 
in line, not at all in character. It was the first great 
step taken by the Western world towards abstract art. 

"The Princess of the Land of Porcelain," the 
" Lange Leizen," the "Gold Screen," the "Bal- 
cony" — all early pictures — are all one and the same 
in motive ; they are his first attempts in a large way 
to produce color harmonies, to subordinate every- 
thing to the color composition. 



a«joH tt'/iA a.riHjq — e>i >i /. i/: /\< hut *o — uaxisj aoviAJ 3ht 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

Of Whistler and American art in those days an 
unnamed correspondent has written from Paris : l 

" It would puzzle the analysis of a competent critic to find 
what Whistler owed to Gleyre ; and the young American 
openly professed to have profited by the counter example of 
Gustave Courbet, who was the realist of that day. From 
the first triumph of Courbet in 1849, Gleyre had shrunk back 
into his shell and no longer exhibited at the annual salons. 

' ' From the start Whistler was an independent ; and when, 
after six years of work in the studios, he offered a picture for 
the judgment of the official Salon, the jury promptly refused 
it. Whistler was not discouraged, and hung the painting in 
the outlaws' Salon des Refuses. It created a stir that was 
almost enthusiasm, and the name of his ' Fille Blanche' — 
White Maiden — was still remembered when four years later 
a few American painters demanded a section for their work 
at the Universal Exposition of 1867. I have looked up a 
criticism of the time, and imagine it will be found more in- 
teresting now than when it was written. 

« ' ' The United States of America are surely a great 
country and the North Americans a great people, but what 
little artists they are ! The big daubs which they exhibit, 
under pretence of "Blue Mountains," "Niagara Falls," 
"Genesee Plain," or " Rain in the Tropics," show as much 
childish arrogance as boyish ignorance. People say that 
these loud placards are sold for crazy prices in Philadelphia 
or Boston. I am willing to believe it, but I cannot rejoice 
at it. ' 

" This is laid on with no light brush, and some of us can 
recall the American painters of that remote age who were so 
mishandled. But the remaining paragraph of the lines 
given to American art may surprise those who look on 
Whistler as only a contemporary. 

1 New York Evening Post, August 1, 1903. 


" ' M. Whistler seems to me the only American artist 
really worthy of attention ; he is our old acquaintance of the 
Salon des Refuses of 1863, where his "Fille Blanche" had a 
suces d 1 engouement (a success of infatuation !). He is truly 
an American, as understood by the motto, "time is money." 
M. Whistler so well knows the value of time that he scarcely 
stops at the small points of execution ; the impression seized 
as it flies and fixed as soon as possible in swift strokes, with 
a galloping brush — such is the artist and such, too, is the 

"Velasquez was already in the air, but Japanese art, to 
which Whistler afterwards allowed himself to be thought in- 
debted, was not yet spoken of. Thus the young American 
artist was the precursor of movements which years after- 
wards came to a head, and which for the most part he has 
outlived. In view of this, the closing verdict of the official 
critic of 1867 is worth noting, the more so as it shows the 
reward already attributed to the American's industry in 
another branch of art. ' While waiting for M. Whistler to 
become a painter in the sense which old Europe still attaches 
to the word, he is already an etcher {aquafortist V), all fire 
and color, and very worthy of attention, even if he had only 
this claim to it.' 

Before France cared very much for Velasquez, 
before it so much as knew there was an island called 
Japan on the art map, Whistler was playing with 
the blacks and grays of the master of Madrid and 
with the blues and silvery whites of the porcelains 
of the Orient. 

And it was he, — Whistler, — the American, who 
turned the face of France towards the East, and 
made her see things in line and color her most 
vagrant fancy had never before conceived. 

Searching the shops of Amsterdam, he found the 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

blue-and-white china which gave him inspiration to 
do those things beside which the finest art of France 
is crude and barbaric. 

Not very long ago a French writer said, " There 
is not, as yet, an American school of painting, but 
there are already many American painters, and great 
ones, who will in time form a school." 

Let us hope not. 

A friend — a painter — once called Whistler's atten- 
tion to several veiy good things by Alfred Stevens. 
Whistler looked at them a moment, then said, 
"School, school, school," and turned away. 

In that, or any other restrictive or regulative sense 
of the word, let us hope there will be no "American 
school ;" but so long as there are American paint- 
ers there will be American paintings ; and the greater 
the work the more completely will it reflect the man, 
and the greater the man the more surely and subtly 
will it reflect his nationality. 

The phrase "American painters" means some- 
thing more than Americans who paint, and " Ameri- 
can paintings" implies the transmission to the work 
of something of the painter's individuality, which in- 
cludes as an important element his racial and national 

In other words, American painters, regardless of 
where they are trained, where they work, and what 
they paint, must produce American paintings ; they 
cannot wholly eliminate their individuality and na- 
tionality ; they cannot become so completely French 



or English as to absolutely obliterate every trace of 
their American origin, and their works, though Eng- 
lish, French, or Italian to the last degree, will still 
exhibit traces of American origin. So true is this, 
that the paintings of men who have lived longest 
abroad and tried hardest to paint after the manner 
of others find their most congenial surroundings 
amidst American art. 

So long as we have American paintings we shall 
have an American "school" in the sense that all 
American paintings taken together, whether few or 
many, whether good or bad, will be distinguished 
and distinguishable from the paintings of every other 
country. In that sense America has, and always has 
had, a "school" of painting, though for a long time 
the school was little more than a kindergarten. 

America has no centre like Paris, or Rome, or 
Florence, where a large body of men and women 
are gathered from the four quarters of the globe to 
study art. In that sense America has no "school ;" 
but that sort of a " school" is about the worst thing 
that can happen to a country. These great centres 
for the diffusion of art are usually fatal to the devel- 
opment of native art ; the presence of a horde of 
foreigners, each with his own peculiarities and char- 
acteristics, some with the effeminacy of the South, 
others with the brutal force and overpowering virilty 
of the North, stifles national initiative and produces 
sterile cosmopolites. 

Paris, with its salons, exhibitions, competitions, 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

medals, prizes, and innumerable incentives towards 
commercial, blatant, and vicious art, is the curse of 
French art, and pretty soon France will have no art 
that is really hers. 

The atmosphere of Paris is one of strenuous 
striving after effect, of mighty endeavor to make an 
impression ; it encourages facility, dash, bravura, 
eccentricities, and experiments of all kinds. From 
the depths of our hearts let us be thankful that 
America has no "school" of that kind, and earn- 
estly hope that American artists residing tempora- 
rily within that atmosphere will be affected as little 
as was Whistler. 

Paris is an aesthetic Babel. 

The art of Greece was suffocated when the entire 
coast-line of the Mediterranean came to study the 

Turning to the entire body of American painters, 
at home and abroad, we find that they constitute at 
the present day the one "school" that has already 
given to the world the greatest artist since the days 
of Rembrandt and Velasquez, — and greater than 
either in some respects, as we shall see, — and also 
the greatest of living portrait-painters, not to men- 
tion a half-dozen more who are recognized inter- 
nationally as masters in their chosen fields ; the 
one "school" that contains more of sobriety, more 
of sanity, more of youthful vigor and virility, more 
of indomitable energy and perseverance, more of 
promise and assurance of mighty achievement than 




all the schools of all the other nations taken to- 

If the world is destined to see the modern equiv- 
alent of ancient Athens, it will be somewhere within 
the confines of North America. 

The countries of the Old World have had their 
opportunities, and the tide of progress in its circuit 
of the globe is already lapping the shores of the 
Western continent. 

In temperament the typical American lies about 
midway between the stolidity of the Englishman 
and the volatility of the Frenchman. He has much 
of the dogged perseverance of the former, with a 
large element of the facility and versatility of the 
latter ; he is steadfast in the pursuit of his ideals, 
and at the same time quick to adopt new and im- 
proved methods for attaining his ends ; he has an 
Englishman's tenacity of conviction and much of a 
Frenchman's brilliancy of expression. As compared 
with an Englishman the American appears more 
than half French ; as compared with a French- 
man he seems essentially English. It is this com- 
bination of earnest convictions, profound belief in 
self and country, sobriety, perseverance, tenacity of 
purpose, stolid endurance, with inventiveness, origi- 
nality, irresistible impulsiveness, dash and brilliancy 
in execution, that assures to the future of North 
America the noblest of human achievements. 

For the present the strength and resources of the 
country are absorbed in the production of wealth ; 
but soon the people will tire of this pursuit, and the 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

accumulated wealth of nation, States, cities, and in- 
dividuals will turn to the encouragement of things 
beautiful in not only art and literature, but in the 
long-neglected handicrafts, — the crafts that make 
instead of destroying men. 

At the World's Exposition of 1893, m Chicago, 
Whistler's paintings hung, where they rightfully be- 
longed, in the American section. Though far and 
away superior to anything in the entire section, and 
conspicuous above everything near for their exquisite 
beauty, still it cannot be gainsaid that of all the sec- 
tions of that exhibition the American was the only 
one which would contain Whistler's work without 
the contrast being so marked as to be absolutely 
destructive. That they could not hang with entire 
fitness among the English pictures even the English 
would admit ; that their sober harmonies were dis- 
tinctively at variance with the brilliant and super- 
ficial qualities of the French pictures was apparent 
to even the unpractised eye. "The Yellow Buskin" 
and "The Fur Jacket," to mention no others, could 
hang in only one place, and that was where they 
were put, — in the main hall of the American section, 
flanked and confronted by American work. 

Not that the pictures about them equalled in 
merit, — that is not the question ; but they were suf- 
ficiently akin to constitute an harmonious environ- 

Art is simply a mode of expression, and the 

highest, truest, noblest art is the reflection of the 

5 65 


best there is in a people. It follows, therefore, that 
the art of any race or people must exhibit the racial 
characteristics. A painting, for instance, belongs 
first to the man who painted it and bears on its 
face so many marks of his individuality that not 
only he but others recognize it as his. Secondly, 
the painting belongs to the r^ce or people with 
which the artist is identified, for the very traits 
which distinguish him as an American, or an Eng- 
lishman, or a Frenchman from all other nationalities 
inevitably make themselves felt in the work, and 
distinguish it not only specifically from all other 
canvases, but generically from the work of other 
peoples, schools, epochs, eras, etc. 

A man may change his allegiance and live in 
foreign lands, but he cannot change his blood. If a 
Chinaman, he will remain a Chinaman, no matter 
where he lives ; if an American, he will remain an 
American, though, like many of our mess-of-pottage 
citizens, he may remain a bastard American in the 
endeavor to become an adopted Englishman. 

The finer the art the more universal its qualities. 
And yet there is no poem and no picture that is 
absolutely without the marks of its master ; and the 
marks of the master mean the marks of his race, — 
in fact, the racial indications are inversely in number 
to those of the individual ; the deeper a man buries 
his personality in his work the stronger the indica- 
tions of his race. Shakespeare so lost himself that 
his personal characteristics nowhere appear in his 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

great plays, and a conception of the poet's person- 
ality could not be formed from a reading of the 
lines — so universal was his genius ; yet his poetry is 
essentially and everlastingly English, — far more con- 
spicuously English than the poetry of lesser men 
who sing about England and things English. It is 
more English than Chaucer, more English than 
Spencer, more English than Browning, Tennyson, 
or Swinburne ; it breathes more fully and more truly 
the spirit of the English people in their greatest 
days than any poetry ever uttered by the English 

The greater the man, the more completely does 
he express his people. It takes a great race to pro- 
duce a great man ; and once produced, he is ever- 
lastingly linked with his tribe. 

But greatness implies the suppression of the petty, 
including all petty resemblances ; therefore, a man by 
the universal qualities of his genius may seem to 
belong to the world, whereas in truth he is but 
the expression of the best there is in his country- 

Rembrandt suppressed all provincialisms and 
seemed to etch and paint for mankind rather than 
for a limited public in Holland ; and yet to the last 
he was simply the greatest of Dutch artists. And 
because he was so essentially and truly Dutch he is 
one of the world's great artists ; in the chorus of 
the world's proud voices there is no mistaking his 



Velasquez is at the same time the least Spanish of 
painters and the most Spanish of artists. Suppress- 
ing all eccentricities of time and place, he rose to 
universal heights, and the world claims him as its 
own ; and yet his fame depends upon the fact that 
he was from first to last a Spaniard, — a Spaniard in 
precisely the sense that Cervantes was the expres- 
sion of inarticulate forces behind him. Deriving 
more or less help from his contemporaries, and from 
this quarter and that, from the visit of Rubens and 
from his own journey to Italy, he, after all, was the 
achievement of the Spanish people in painting. He 
was not an Italian, he was not a Frenchman, he was 
not a Dutchman, — he was a Spaniard of the Span- 
iards, as Shakespeare was an Englishman of the 

Having wandered far afield in the endeavor to 
point out the intimate connection between, first, a 
man and his work, — which connection every one 
admits, — and, secondly, between the race and the 
work, — a connection which is not so readily per- 
ceived, — let us return to Whistler, whose work fur- 
nishes proof positive of what has been said. 

It is commonly taken for granted that if a man 
lives and studies and works abroad for many years 
he loses his individuality and becomes in some mys- 
terous manner the offspring of the countiy where 
he works. It is assumed that American painters 
residing in Rome become more or less Italian ; that 
those residing in Paris become more or less French ; 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

that those residing in London become more or less 
English ; while those who move restlessly from place to 
place become more or less of characterless cosmopo- 
lites. All of which is true inversely to the real strength 
and genius of the artist. A weak man is swerved by 
this influence and that and — chameleon like — takes 
on the hues of his surroundings, but a strong man 
simply absorbs and assimilates without in the slight- 
est degree losing his individuality. Unhappily, 
many American artists residing abroad possess so 
little stamina, so little of real character, so little of 
genius, that they are — like topers — dependent upon 
the daily stimulus afforded by the manifold art 
activities about them ; they never get out of school, 
but remain helplessly dependent upon teachers and 
copy-books. The annual Salon, like a college com- 
mencement day, is their great incentive ; their petty 
exhibitions are so many field-days necessary to 
sustain childish enthusiasm. 

Happily, all do not yield to those influences, and 
no two yield in precisely the same degree, — the ex- 
tent to which individuality is lost depending upon 
the weakness of the man. A poor, weak, wishy- 
washy American quickly falls into the habit of paint- 
ing pictures after the manner of those about him, 
and his mannerisms out-Herod Herod ; others, with 
more character, yield less to their environment ; 
while the chosen few simply absorb whatever of 
good they find, and without yielding a jot of their 
individuality, without swerving to the right or to the 
left, go on producing after their own fashion things 



which belong to them and the race that produced 

For more than forty years Whistler was the con- 
spicuous example of the last-named class, — a class 
so small that it included besides himself — no others. 

Great as certain of our American artists residing 
abroad undoubtedly are, good as many of these 
surely are, creditable on the whole as all are to 
American art, there is not one whose work does not 
betray the influences of his environment ; there is 
not one who has not sacrificed something of his origi- 
nality, something of his strength, something of his 
native force and character on strange altars, saving 
and excepting, always, Whistler. 

The most that men have ventured to say is that 
he was influenced by Velasquez, though he himself 
has said he never visited Madrid, — a statement many 
insist cannot be true ; others say he has been in- 
fluenced by Japanese art, — but Velasquez and the art 
of Japan are far from French or English art of the 
nineteenth century ; and the assertion that he was 
influenced by either is a confession that he lived un- 
scathed amidst his surroundings. 

Back of the art of Japan is the purer art of China ; 
and to that source must we go if we seek the factors 
that influenced Whistler, for he loved the porcelain 
and pottery of China long before they were collected 
by the museums and amateurs of Europe. 

"When no one cared for it," he said, "I used to 
find in Amsterdam the most beautiful blue-and- 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

white china. That was a good many years ago ; it 
is all gone now." 

Old Delft did not inspire him with any enthu- 
siasm. " Crude, crude, crude." 

This art of China, as reflected and elaborated in 
that of Japan, influenced him, — of that there can be 
no doubt, — and he recognized what was good in 
Japanese art before others gave it any attention. 

The art of Velasquez had its due weight, for he 
loved the work of the Spanish master; and if he never 
visited Madrid, perhaps it was because he feared 
falling too much under its influence. But he went 
frequently to the Louvre, and invariably to the 
little " Infanta," which he would look at long and -4c 
earnestly, and to Titian's "Man with the Glove," 
which was a favorite, and to certain Rembrandts, 
and to Franz Hals, and a few, a very few others, — 
the gems of the collection, — ignoring completely 
the pictures which commonly attract, never once 
glancing up at the huge canvases by Rubens and 
his pupils ; in fact, so far as he was concerned the 
walls might have been bare save for a half-dozen 
masterpieces ; and these he really did love. There 
was no mistaking his attitude towards them. It was 
one of reverential affection. He appreciated a 
really good thing, whether he or some one else had 
done it, and he hated above everything sham and 
pretence and foolish display. To him a picture the 
size of one's hand, if well and conscientiously done, 
was just as important as a full-length portrait. 

The Italian masters influenced him, for he often 


spoke of them, of the wonderful effects they ob- 
tained with such simple materials and such straight- 
forward methods ; their mastery of color influenced 
him, and he sought, so far as possible, to discover 
the pigments and the methods they used. 

Those are the factors which helped to make Whist- 
ler, — the purest art ; he was not influenced by what 
went on about him, or by what was said about him. 
So little did he care what others were doing or how 
they did it that his very brushes and pigments were 
different ; and his methods were so peculiarly his own 
that no one painted at all like him, and his fellow- 
artists looked on in amazement. 

The wave of impressionism which submerged all 
Paris in the very midst of his career left him unaf- 
fected, — for his art was an older and truer impres- 
sionism, an impressionism that did not depend upon 
the size of brushes or the consistency of pigments. 

A visitor once said to him : 

" Mr. Whistler, it seems to me you do not use 
some of those very expensive and brilliant colors 
which are in vogue nowadays." 

"No." And he diligently worked away at his 
palette. " I can't afford to, — they are so apt to 
spoil the picture." 

" But they are effective." 

" For how long ? A year, or a score of years, per- 
haps ; but who can tell what they will be a century 
or five centuries hence. The old masters used sim- 
ple pigments which they ground themselves. I try 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

to use what they used. After all, it is not so much 
what one uses as the way it is used." 

Much of the foregoing argument concerning the 
Americanism of Whistler and his art may seem to 
be contradicted by his own express utterances. 

For did he not say in his "Ten o'Clock" ? 

" Listen ! There never was an artistic period." 

" There never was an art-loving nation." 

And he pointed out how the man who, " differing 
from the rest," who " stayed by the tents with the 
women and traced strange devices with a burnt stick 
upon a gourd, . . . who took no joy in the ways of 
his brethren, . . . who perceived in nature about 
him curious curvings, as faces are seen in the fire, 
this dreamer apart, was the first artist." 

"And presently there came to this man another — 
and, in time, others — of like nature, chosen by the 
gods ; and so they worked together ; and soon they 
fashioned, from the moistened earth, forms re- 
sembling the gourd. And with the power of crea- 
tion, the heirloom of the artist, presently they went 
beyond the slovenly suggestion of nature, and the 
first vase was born, in beautiful proportion." 

And the toilers and the heroes were athirst, " and 
all drank alike from the artist's goblets, fashioned 
cunningly, taking no note the while of the crafts- 
man's pride, and understanding not his glory in his 
work ; drinking at the cup, not from choice, not from 
a consciousness that it was beautiful, but because, 
forsooth, there was no other !" 



"And the people questioned not, and had nothing 
to say in the matter." 

" So Greece was in its splendor, and art reigned 
supreme, — by force of fact, not by election, — and 
there was no meddling by the outsider." 

Again he says : 

" The master stands in no relation to the moment 
at which he occurs a monument of isolation, hinting 
at sadness, having no part in the progress of his 

Those are the propositions which called out the 
reply — positive and intemperate — from Swinburne, 1 
and so estranged the two, and which to this day 
have proved huge stumbling-blocks in the paths 
of those who try to understand Whistler. 

For the world does believe that there have been 
"artistic periods," that there have been " art-loving 
nations," that in some mysterious manner the master 
does stand in " relation to the moment at which he 

And the world is right ; though it does not neces- 
sarily follow that Whistler was wrong in the particu- 
lar views he had in mind when he uttered his epi- 
grammatic propositions. 

In one sense it is undoubtedly true that the 
master does seem to stand apart, " a mouument of 
isolation," that he does seem to happen without any 
causal connection with either parents or country, 

1 Fortnightly Review, June, i! 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

time or place, — for who could have fortold the great- 
ness of Shakespeare from an acquaintance with those 
obscure individuals his father and mother, or from 
a knowledge of Stratford and its environs? Who 
could have predicted the triumphs of Napoleon 
from a study of his Corsican forbears, or the strange 
genius of Lincoln from his illiterate progenitors and 
humble surroundings, or the elemental force of 
Walt Whitman from his ancestry and American con- 
ditions ? 

No one ; and yet there is the profound conviction 
that each of these men, like every great man, — 
prophet, king, statesman warrior, poet, or painter, — 
appeared, not miraculously, but as the inevitable 
result of irresistible forces ; that the brilliant man 
is, after all, the son of his parents and the child of 
his times. 

In the mystery of generation two stupidities fused 
in the alembic of maternity produce a genius. 

The occasion does not create, but calls forth its 
master. Every war has its great general, every crisis 
its great leader, and in the world of art great artists 
respond to meet the requirements of the hour. 

The bent of a nation determines the occupations 
of her sons, — towards war and conquest, towards 
peace and industry, towards things artistic or things 
commercial, all as the case may be. 

It is not the birth of the poet that turns the nation 
from commerce to poetry ; it is rather the imper- 
ceptible development of the nation itself in the direc- 



tion of the ideal that calls into activity — not being — 
the poet. 

Neither race nor nation can by its fiat create a 
poet ; but it can by its encouragement stimulate his 
activity and rouse him to his best. It could not 
create a Keats ; but it might have urged him on to 
even greater heights than he attained, — for who can 
doubt that his clear, pure crystalline song was stifled 
for lack of appreciation ? 

Now and then a genius, such as Carlyle, such as 
Whistler, such as Whitman, asserts himself in spite 
of all rebuffs, for each of these men pursued his 
chosen path regardless of all revilings ; but, so sus- 
ceptible is genius to encouragement and discourage- 
ment, that, for the most part, it droops before the 
withering blast of adverse criticism, and only those 
of hearts so strong and wills so stubborn that op- 
position inflames them to greater efforts make head- 
way against the world. 

It was no one genius that made the monuments 
and literature of Greece, the art of China and 
Japan, the paintings of Italy, the Gothic cathedrals 
of France and England ; it was the demand for all 
these things and their appreciation by those who 
could not do them that called forth and encouraged 
the doers. 

The first artist may neglect the chase and the 
field and remain by the tents idly tracing strange 
designs upon gourds ; but unless those who till the 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

soil and bring in the food see his decorated gourds 
and like them, and prefer them to the plain ones 
which abound, and are willing to give him food and 
shelter for his work, he will not remain by the tents 
very long, and his artistic career will be foreshortened 
by necessity. 

But if the toilers and the hunters like the dec- 
orated gourds, and the demand for them increases, 
others of the tribe who have talent for designing 
and decoration will join the master and imitate his 
work, and every now and then a pupil will prove a 
genius and surpass the '* first artist," and art will 
grow and art-products will multiply, but only so 
long as the rest of the tribe are willing to work and 
toil and to exchange the necessaries of life for 
paintings and carvings and pottery ; and the greater 
the demand, the keener the desire of the people for 
decorated things in preference to those that are 
plain and cheap, the larger will be the chance of 
uncovering now and then a genius, until, as with the 
Greeks, the effective demand for things beautiful, 
for poetry, music, painting, sculpture, and archi- 
tecture, becomes so great that we have an artistic 
people and an art-epoch, — that is to say, a people 
that is only too glad to encourage and support a 
large number of artists of every kind, and an era 
when of a given population an unusually large per- 
centage is devoted to the service of the beautiful. 

The master does seem — as Whistler says — to come 
unbidden ; but he will not remain long, and others 



will not follow in his footsteps, unless he arouses at 
least sufficient appreciation to give him life. 

The future of art — of literature, of the drama, 
and of all the handicrafts — in America depends not 
upon the coming of a genius, but upon the growth 
of an effective and irresistible demand for good 
things ; when that demand is sufficiently imperative, 
a Phidias, an Angelo, a Shakespeare will respond, 
for genius is latent everywhere. 

The sudden degradation of the arts in Japan within 
the memory of man was not due to the disappear- 
ance of the talent and genius which for nearly a 
thousand years had been steadily — almost methodi- 
cally — producing things beautiful, but it was due to 
the suppression of the feudal system, of those great 
lords who from the beginning had been the sure 
patrons of art and supporters of artists, and to the 
throwing open of ports to the commerce of the 
world and the introduction of the commercial spirit. 

The genius for the creation of beautiful things 
remains, — for a people does not change in the 
twinkling of an eye, — but the talent is no longer in 
demand, or, in many cases, is diverted to the more 
profitable pursuits of the hour. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 


Early Days in Paris and Venice — Etchings, Litho- 
graphs, and Water-Colors — " Propositions" and 
" Ten o'Clock" 

After leaving the coast survey, Whistler went to 
England, and thence to Paris in 1855, and entered 
the studio of Charles Gabriel Gleyre, where he 
remained two years. 

Beyond the fact that Whistler was for a time in 
his studio, Gleyre has not much claim on fame. 
There could not have been anything in common be- 
tween the master and his pupil, for he was academic 
to the last degree. " Not even by a tour in the 
East did he allow himself to be led away from the 
classic manner ; and as the head of a great leading 
studio he recognized it as the task of his life to hand 
the traditions of the school of Ingres," whom Whist- 
ler used to call a " Bourgeois Greek," "on to the 
present." He "was a man of sound culture, who 
during a sojourn in Italy, which lasted five years, 
had examined Etruscan vases and Greek statues 
with unintermittent zeal, studied the Italian classics, 
and copied all Raphael. Having come back to 
Paris, he never drew a line without having first 
assured himself how Raphael would have pro- 

However, there must have been a certain com- 


bative streak in his character which did appeal to 
Whistler, for in 1849 he quarreled with the Salon 
over the success of Courbet, and thereafter sent his 
pictures to Swiss exhibitions. 

Whistler's first commission grew out of an ac- 
quaintance made at West Point. At one of the 
commencement festivities he met a charming young 
girl, a Miss Sally Williams, and her father, Captain 

While a student in Paris, the pretty daughter and 
the bluff old captain called on him, and the captain 
said : 

" Mr. Whistler, we are over here to see Paris, and 
I want you to show us the pictures." 

Nothing loath, Whistler took them to the Louvre, 
and after they had walked a mile or two the captain 
stopped before some pictures that pleased him and 
asked : 

" Do you suppose you could copy these pictures?" 

" Possibly." 

"Then, I wish you would copy this, and that, 
and that," pointing out three paintings. "When 
they are finished, deliver them to my agent, and he 
will pay you your price." 

Whistler made the copies, and received the first 
money he ever earned with his brush. 

One of these canvases, a copy of an Ingres, 
turned up in New York a year or two ago. It bore 
Whistler's signature, but was so atrocious — imagine 
a combination of Ingres and Whistler — that even 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

the dealer doubted its authenticity ; but when a 
photograph was shown Whistler, he recognized the 
picture and told the story. 

Of these early days many stories are told, but 
they are all more or less apocryphal. It is as nat- 
ural for stories to cluster about Whistler as for bar- 
nacles to cling to a ship. He told so many good ones 
that, as with Lincoln, innumerable good, bad, and 
indifferent which he did not tell are attributed to 
him, and thousands are told about him which have 
slight foundations in fact. 

It is well nigh impossible to sift the true from the 
false, — a thing Whistler himself did not attempt, — 
though it is possible to sift the wheat from the chafi^ 
the inane, insipid, and pointless from the bright and 

Any man can vouch for a story, but who can 
vouch for a good story? The story-teller? Heaven 
forbid ! By all the rules of evidence the testimony 
of so interested a witness is inadmissible. The bet- 
ter the story, the more doubtful its authenticity, — 
its formal, its literal authenticity. The better the 
teller, the more daring his liberties with prosaic de- 
tails. A good story-teller is a lapidary who receives 
his material in the rough and polishes it into a jewel 
by removing three-fourths of its substance ; or, under 
pressure of necessity, he deftly manufactures paste. 
To be without stories is the story-teller's crime ; a 
wit without witticisms is no wit at all, hence the 
strain upon veracity. 

6 81 


Happily, the world conspires to help both wit and 
story-teller by supplying during their lives, and in 
great abundance after their deaths, stories and wit- 
ticisms without end. Give a man the reputation of 
being a humorist, and all he has to do is to sit dis- 
creetly silent and watch his reputation grow. If he 
really deserves his reputation, he may add to his 
fame by fresh activities ; but if he is something of a 
sham, as most wits are, he would better leave his 
sayings to the imaginations of others. 

Whistler's sense of humor was so keen, his wit so 
sharp, his facility in epigram and clever sayings so 
extraordinary, that what are genuinely his are better 
than anything others have said about him ; therefore, 
it is a pity some one has not jotted down first hand 
some of the good things that constantly fell from his 
lips. Perhaps some one has, and his life and sayings 
will yet appear with all the marks of authority and 

But his sharp and exceedingly terse sayings often 
suffer greatly in the telling, frequently to the loss of 
all point and character. The following instance is 
in point : 

A group of society women were once discussing 
the graces and accomplishments of Frederic Leigh- 

"So handsome." 

" Plays divinely." 

"Perfectly charming." 



OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

" And is so great a sculptor." 

Whereupon Whistler, who was of the party, tim- 
idly advanced the query : 

" Paints a little, too, does he not?" 

That is one version of an old and well-worn Whist- 
ler anecdote, and other versions, which are at all 
characteristic, do not vary in more than two or three 

See what the story becomes in the mouth of the 
incompetent 1 

"One evening a dozen of us were sitting in Broughton's 
reception-room, waiting for our carriages to be announced, 
and Whistler was sitting by himself on a lounge on the other 
side of the room. We were discussing the versatile talents of 
Frederic Leighton, one of the leading painters of England, 
and afterwards president of the Royal Academy. One spoke 
of his astonishing linguistic accomplishments : he could ex- 
press himself in every European tongue and in several Ori- 
ental ones. Another mentioned his distinguished merit as an 
architect : he was building an addition to his studio which 
was like a vision of Aladdin or Haroun Al Rashid. Another 
called attention to his ability in sculpture : a group of an 
athlete and a serpent was then exhibiting in the Academy, 
which challenged the works of antique art. Another men- 
tioned his talent as an orator : no man in London could 
make a better after-dinner speech. Another praised his per- 
sonal beauty and grace and his athletic prowess. At length 
there fell a silence, because all of us had contributed his or 
her mite of eulogy, — all of us, that is, with the exception of 
Whistler, reclining on his elbow at the other side of the 

" By a common impulse we all glanced over at him : what 

1 The Independent, November 2, 1899. 


would he say ? He partly raised himself from his lolling 
attitude and reached for his crush hat on the sofa. 'Yes,' 
he added, slowly and judicially, as if benevolently confirming 
all the praise we had poured forth ; and then, as if by an 
after-thought, calling our attention to a singular fact not 
generally known, 'Yes, and he can paint, too !' " 

After all the verbosity, padding, and penny-a- 
lining, the point is missed by attributing to Whistler 
the positive averment that Leighton could paint. 

Small wonder that the writer in the next para- 
graph confesses : 

"My own crude first attempts to understand Whistler's 
paintings were dismal failures ; and of course I imagined that 
the failure was in the painting, and not in myself. I could 
see no beauty in them : the drawing was indeterminate ; 
the colors were not pretty ; the pictures all seemed un- 

It is less difficult than one would suppose to recall 
things said by Whistler, for he would repeat a good 
thing and was always polishing. 

For instance, in his controversy with the critics he 
originally said that "Ruskin's high-sounding, empty 
things . . . flow of language that would, could he 
hear it, give Titian the same shock of surprise that 
was Balaam's when the first great critic proffered his 

A very literal correspondent wrote to the papers 
that the "ass was right," and quoted the Bible in 

Nothing daunted, Whistler acknowledged the hit, 
saying, " But, I fancy, you will admit that this is the 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

only ass on record who ever did see the Angel of 
the Lord, and that we are past the age of miracles." 
Years after, in referring to the matter, he im- 
proved his reply to, "But I fancy you will admit 
that this is the only ass on record that ever was 
right, and the age of miracles is past." 

His love of epigram was so great that nothing 
which was terse or pointed escaped his ears or 
fled his memory. 

One day, while lunching with a friend who knew 
something about the habits and eccentricities of 
good wine, Whistler was telling about the peculiari- 
ties of Henry James, how James would drag a 
slender incident through several pages until it was 
exhausted, whereupon his friend casually remarked : 

"The best of wine is spoiled by too small a spig- 

Immediately alert, Whistler said : 

"What's that? what's that you said? Did you 
get that out of Shakespeare?" 

"Not at all ; it is simply a physical fact that if 
you let good wine dribble through a small spiggot 
you lose its fragrance and character." 

"God bless me, but I believe you are right; and 
it's a good saying, — it's James to a — drop." 

No doubt there are many still living who knew 
Whistler in those early Paris days, but if so, few 
have so far made known their reminiscences. One 



fellow-student describes one of the places where 
they used to dine inexpensively as follows : l 

" In Paris, in the fifties, there existed in the Rue de la 
Michaudiere what appeared to be an ordinary Paris creamery. 
In the front shop were sold milk, butter, and eggs. Over 
the door was the usual painted tin coffee-pot, indicating that 
caffe au lait, and eggs, butter, and rolls could be obtained in 
the back room. 

" The place was kept by Madame Busque, who had been 
a governess in a private family in the south of France, and 
having saved a little money, had come to Paris and opened 
a creamery. The very day she opened her shop, Mr. Chase, 
Paris correspondent of the New York Ti?nes, passing by, was 
attracted by the clean look of the place, and stepped in for 
his early breakfast of coffee and rolls. 2 The little back room 
contained two round tables, and beyond was the kitchen with 
the usual charcoal broiler and little furnaces. Chase was so 
pleased that he came again, and getting acquainted with 
Madame, who was well educated and very ladylike and 
anxious to please, arranged for a dinner at 6. 30 for a party 
of four. Everything was good and so well served that soon 
she had a regular custom of American residents, — literary 
men, artists, and students of all kinds, art, scientific, literary, 
and medical, — and soon the place became famous. Ameri- 
can dishes were introduced, — mince and pumpkin pies and 
buckwheat cakes. It was not easy to reproduce these things 
in Paris. The pumpkin pie was a trouble. Madame was 
told how to make it by a man who only knew how it looked 
and tasted, and who neglected to mention the crust ; and as 
Madame had no knowledge of pies in general, she served the 
first pumpkin pie as a soup in a tureen. Just at that time 
came in a bright young woman, introduced by one of the 

1 W. L. B. Jenney, in the Amer. Architect, January 1, 1898. 
8 A correspondent writes that it was W. D. Huntingdon of 
the Tribune. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

habitues, who offered to come next forenoon and show 
Madame Busque how to make a genuine Yankee pumpkin 
pie, which she did ; and the pies produced in that little 
creamery were famous and were sent out to Americans all 
over Paris. Fine carriages, including that of the American 
minister, to the amazement of the neighborhood, would call 
for these pies to take home. 

"Among the habitues was young Whistler, then an art 
student. He was bright, original, and amusing, but gave at 
that time no promise of any particular ability as an artist. 
His drawing was careless. I remember one of his pictures, 
— a woman seated at the piano, a little child playing on 
the floor. The piano was so out of drawing that it looked 
as if it were falling over. As students are always fond of 
guying each other, one said to Whistler, ' Hurry and put a 
fifth leg under that piano or it will fall and smash the baby.' 

"One day, in the Luxembourg, Whistler had his easel in a 
crowd with others. They were all at work making copies 
from a famous picture that had just been added to the gal- 
lery. Whistler would paint a bit, and then rush back to 
contemplate what he had done. In one of these mad back- 
ward rushes he struck a step-ladder on the top of which was 
a painter. Over went step-ladder, painter, and all, and the 
painter, trying to save himself, seized the top of his own 
canvas and another, pulling them over, easels and all. One 
knocked down another, and there was a great crash. 
Whistler was in the midst, and his loud voice was heard, as 
he sat on the floor, his head protruding through a big canvas 
that had fallen on him, using expressions of a vigorous type. 
He was seized by the guardian, because, as Whistler was 
making the most noise, he assumed that the whole fuss was 
due to him. This was quite correct ; but all the painters 
coming to his rescue, telling the guardian that it was all an 
accident, he let Whistler off. 

" He organized a company of French negro minstrels, 
writing the songs and stories, and gave a performance which 



was very amusing. Among the habitues at Madame Busque's 
was a student from the School of Mines, Vinton, afterwards 
Professor of Mining at Columbia College, and during the war 
a brigadier-general. He himself told me the following story 
in 1866. One night in South Carolina an officer wandered 
into his camp. He sent word to the general by the sergeant 
of the guard that he was an officer who had lost his way, 
that he asked permission to pass the rest of the night in his 
camp, adding that he had known General Vinton when a 
student in Paris. General Vinton sent for the officer, whom 
he failed to recognize. After some thought he asked the 
question, ' Who was the funniest man we knew in Paris ?' 
'Whistler,' instantly answered the officer. 'All right,' says 
Vinton ; ' take that empty cot ; you are no spy.' " 

Among the students he knew in those days were 
Degas, Ribot, and Fantin-Latour, whose work every 
one knows. 

Manet was working up to his best; in 1861 he 
painted the " Child with a Sword," now in the 
Metropolitan Museum in New York, and altogether 
the atmosphere was charged with the strong sulphur 
of revolution. 

In England the pre-Raphaelites — old and new — 
were turning the hands of time backward, in France 
the Impressionists were pressing them forward, in 
both countries the ferment of change was working. 

When only twenty-four years of age, in 1858, 
Whistler's first etchings appeared, published by 
Delatre, with a dedication to Seymour Haden, his 
brother-in-law. In those days the relations between 
the two men were very cordial ; unhappily, not so 
later, as may be seen in " Gentle Art." 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

One of Haden's best plates, " Battersea Beach," 
bears in its first state this inscription, " Old Chelsea, 
Seymour Haden, 1863, out of Whistler's window," 
and another plate of the same year is entitled, 
" Whistler's House, old Chelsea." l 

Prior to the publication of the "French Set," 
Whistler had etched three plates, which are cata- 
logued as 2 

" Early Portrait of Whistler. A young man 
bare-headed. An impression on which Whistler 
wrote 'Early' Portrait of Self is in the Avery 
collection in the Lenox Library, New York. 

" Annie Haden. On the only impression known, 
now in Aveiy collection, Lenox Library, Whistler 
wrote, ' Very early ; most probably unique.' 

"The Dutchman Holding His Glass. This is 
signed 'J. W.,' and but two or three impressions 
are in existence." 

There must have been many other early attempts 
before the " French Set" was formally undertaken, 
and possibly other plates and prints will come to light 
in the rigorous search that is sure to be made for 
everything that he ever did. A plate made while 
in the service of the coast survey is in existence, — a 
headland embellished with vagrant heads and fig- 
ures. Some of the prints are to be seen in collec- 

1 Wedmore, Fine Prints, p. 103. 

2 Wedmore' s Catalogue, pp. 19-20. 


The " French Set" consisted of twelve plates and 
an etched title, making thirteen plates in all. 

But few copies of the set were printed, and the 
original price was two guineas per copy. 

It is, of course, quite impracticable to give a com- 
plete list of Whistler's etchings, for three hundred 
and seventy-two have been duly listed and described, 
and it is altogether likely that this number will be 
increased to over four hundred. 

Whistler himself was very careless about keeping 
either a set of proofs or anything like a memoran- 
dum of what he had done. In fact, he did not 
know what or how many etchings and lithographs 
he had made or how many pictures he had painted. 

Everything he did was so entirely the pleasure of 
the moment, and each new work, whether large or 
small, so completely absorbed him, that he quite 
forgot the labor of yesterday. 

All his life long he would begin things and throw 
them aside, and he would finish things and throw 
them aside also. To him the only hour of vital 
import was the present. To the very last his work 
shows the enthusiasm, the even more than youthful 
impulsiveness, with which he would begin each new 

He could never work at an etching, a lithograph, 
or a painting one moment after it became drudgery; 
he could never finish a thing simply because he had 
begun it, or because some one thought it ought to 
be finished ; hence endless misunderstandings with 
sitters and patrons, who could not understand why 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

what they had bargained for should not be finished 
and delivered. 

No matter how hard at work on any subject, he 
was instantly diverted by another which appealed 
to him more ; and he would leave a sitter who was 
to pay him a thousand guineas to sketch an Italian 

Unmethodical to the last degree in all his affairs, 
always absorbed in what he had in hand, it is not 
surprising that he kept little track of the things he 
had done. 

The first catalogue of his etchings was published 
in London in 1874. It contained about eighty 
etchings. In 1886 Mr. Frederick Wedmore cata- 
logued two hundred and fourteen, and in 1899 in- 
creased the number to two hundred and sixty-eight. 

In 1902 a supplement 1 to Wedmore' s catalogue 
brought the number of known prints up to three 
hundred and seventy-two. 

The " Thames Set," sixteen in number, did not 
appear publicly as a "set" until 1871, though made 
many years before ; and the very rare early impres- 
sions made by Whistler himself are considered far 
superior to the prints of 1871 and after. 

In 1880 the Fine Arts Society issued the "First 
Venice Set" of a dozen plates, and in 1886 Messrs. 
Dowdeswell issued a set of twenty-six, known as the 
"Twenty-six Etchings." 

1 Printed by H. Wunderlich & Co., New York. 


One who knew him in his early Venice days gives 
the following reminiscences : 1 

' ' We were often invited to dine with Whistler, whose 
apartment was on the next flight above. He came to our 

rooms one day, and said, ' A , I would like you and 

B to dine with me to-day. You have such a supply of 

newspapers, please bring several with you, as I have neither 
papers nor table-cloth, and they will answer the purpose 
quite well.' I did as he requested, and surprised and 
amused was our host when I called his attention to a column 
and a half of ' Whistler stories ' in one of the Boston papers, 
which was serving as our table-cloth. 

"One day I called on Whistler when he was engaged in 
decorating the interior of a house. He lay on his back on 
the floor, and the handle of the brush was a fish-pole which 
reached to the ceiling. 

"Once a year, in the summer time, it is the custom of 
Venetians to go to the Lido, a surf-bathing resort, to see the 
sun rise. They leave in the evening, in gondolas, accompa- 
nied with the inevitable mandolin and guitar, and some- 
times with an upright piano. The excursionists make a 
night of it, and Whistler was one of the number. Next day 
he wished to make a study from our window, the approach 
to the Grand Canal. Leaving him for a time by himself, 
upon my return there was a striking study of the view on 
the easel, and Whistler before the easel asleep. The brushes 
had fallen from his grasp, and, well charged with fresh 
paint, were resting in his lap. As he wore white duck 
trousers, the effect can well be imagined. 

"I have often heard him use the word 'pretty,' when 
looking at a study that had no particular redeeming feature 
to recommend it. Not wishing to wound the feelings of the 
artist, he would remark, with that peculiar drawl of his, 
'That is pretty, yes, very pretty.' 

1 W. S. Adams, in the Springfield Republican. 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

" One day he called upon two students. On the wall was 
the study of a child, most beautifully done by one of them. 
Whistler stood before it for a long time in deep admiration, 
and then, turning to the art student, said, ' That is away be- 
yond yourself. ' Truly it was, for I called again a few days 
afterwards, and the body attached to the beautiful head was 
not worthy the brush of a five-years-old child. And I won- 
dered how such incongruous things could be. 

" Whistler was very loyal to his ' white lock ;' said it was 
an inheritance in the family for several generations. He 
wore a slouch hat ; and I have watched him on several occa- 
sions, before the mirror, where he remained for a long time, 
arranging it on his curly hair for the best effect before starting 
for the Florian cafe. 

"And this reminds me that he was in need sometimes of 
the wherewithal to procure his coffee. So he called on me 
for aid. It was amusing to me, for I had scarcely soldi to 
pay for my own, and so I often went without. However, I 
could well afford to pay for Whistler's coffee, inasmuch as he 
was a fine linguist, and I called on him to assist me in the 
battle I had with the padrona on two occasions. The mer- 
cenary woman was completely nonplussed, for Whistler 
waxed eloquent in the Italian tongue. There was no mis- 
take, he was in dead earnest, for his gesticulations and ex- 
cited tones of voice assured it, and my case was won. 

" Tintoretto was his ideal artist among the old masters, 
and he often spoke most highly of his productions, especially 
'The Crucifixion.' 

"In the line of pastels he was original, doing them on 
ordinary wrapping-paper. They were simply beautiful. I 
saw them in a London gallery a few months later, and they 
were an inspiration ; so much so that he has had since many 
imitators but no equals. 

"On one occasion I had a demonstration. We set out 
together on a sketching tour of the town. We came suddenly 
upon a subject that was very rich in tone — a cooper-shop. 



I lost no time getting to work. I threw my sketching-block 
flat upon the pavement, and emptied the contents of my box 
of water-colors upon it to get the tone quickly. The paper 
being well saturated with water, made it an easy matter to 
bring forth light from out the deep tone with strips of blotting- 
paper. I was not aware of doing anything unusual until I 
heard a ' Ha, ha, ha !' which has been called Whistler's 
Satanic laugh. 

" • What amuses you, Mr. Whistler ? Why do you laugh ? 
Are you making fun of my sketch ?' 

" ' Oh, no,' said he, with assurance. ' I am admiring the 
ingenious way in which you work.' 

"This to me was high praise, for it came from one who 
rarely indulged in praise. 

Another, speaking of the same period, says : l 

' ' I first knew Mr. James McNeill Whistler many years 
ago in Venice, when he was quite unknown to fame. He 
had lodging at the top of an old palace in the uttermost parts 
of the town, and many days he would breakfast, lunch, and 
dine off nothing more nutritious than a plateful of polenta or 
macaroni. He was just as witty, and gave himself just the 
same outrageous but inoffensive airs as afterwards in the 
days of his prosperity. He used to go about and do marvel- 
lous etchings for which he could find no market, or else only 
starvation prices. When he was absolutely obliged to, he 
would sell them for what he could get ; but he never lost the 
fullest confidence in his own powers ; and, whenever he 
could, he preferred to keep them in the expectation — nay, 
certainty — of being able to sell them some day at a high 

' ' He used to go roaming about Venice in search of sub- 

1 McClure s Magazine, vol. vii. p. 374. 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

jects for his etchings, and those who know all about it say 
that the charm of his work lies quite as much in the choice 
of subjects as in their execution. He used to make a great 
deal of mystery about his etching expeditions, and was 
rarely prevailed upon to let any one accompany him. If 
he did, it was always under the strictest pledge of secrecy. 
What was the use, he would ask, of his ferreting out some 
wonderful old bridge or archway, and thinking of making it 
immortal, if some second-rate painter-man were to come 
after him and make it commonplace with his caricatures ? 
On the other hand, if some friend of his discovered an ideal 
spot, and asked what he thought of it, he would not scruple 
for an instant to say, ' Come, now, this is all nonsense, your 
trying to do this. It is much too good a subject to be wasted 
on you. You'd better let me see what I can do with it.' 
And he would be so charming about it, and take his own 
superiority so completely for granted, that no one ever 
dreamed of refusing him." 

The story is told that a woman, some elderly 
countess, moved into an apartment immediately 
below him. By her noise, fussiness, and goings to 
and fro she annoyed him very much, and Whistler 
wished her out. 

The weather was hot, and one day the countess 
put a jar of goldfish on the balcony immediately 
beneath his window. During her absence Whistler 
tied a bent pin to a thread and caught the fish, 
broiled them to a turn, and dropped them back. 
Soon the countess returned, and on finding her 
goldfish dead, there was a great commotion, and the 
next day she packed up and left, saying that Venice 
was altogether too hot, — the sun had cooked her 
goldfish in their jar. 



Of Whistler's etchings Seymour Haden once said 
that if he had to part with his Rembrandts or his 
Whistlers he would let the former go. 

This collection of Haden' s came to this country 
a few years ago. 

An enthusiastic collector says : 

' ' I should say of Mr. Whistler that he was an artistic 
genius, whose etched work has not been surpassed by any 
one, and equalled only by Rembrandt. Comparing the 
etching of the two, it should be said of Rembrandt that he 
chose greater subjects, — as, for instance, ' Christ Healing the 
Sick* and ' The Crucifixion ;' in landscape ' The Three 
Trees;' and in portraiture 'Jan Lutma,' ' Ephraim Bonus,' 
and ' The Burgomaster Six.' It certainly cannot be said of 
Whistler that he ever etched any plates such as the two first 
mentioned. Though Rembrandt's etchings number, say; two 
hundred and seventy plates, when a buyer has bought fifty, 
he has, no matter how much money he may possess, all the 
Rembrandts he wants. In other words, two hundred and 
twenty plates are of little value. 

' ' Whistler has catalogued three hundred and seventy- 
two plates ; but it would not do to think of stopping the 
buying of his prints with fifty, or twice that number, or any 
other figures, indeed, short of them all. The difference be- 
tween Rembrandt and Whistler might be expressed in this 
way : Rembrandt etched many things whose technique was 
not the best, whose subjects were abominable, and whose 
work generally was far from pleasing. Whistler, on the 
contrary, has never etched a plate that would not be a 
delight to any connoisseur. 

"I have fifty -five Rembrandts, and, with the exception 
of half a dozen more, I have all that I want, or all that I 
would buy, no matter how much money I had. Of Whist- 
lers I have fifty-one, and I carry constantly in my pocket a 
list of as many more that I would be glad to buy if I had the 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

chance. I can add that if I succeed in getting the others I 
shall then want as many more. 

"While Whistler has not equalled Rembrandt in some of 
the great things, yet his average is very much higher. The 
latter etched scores of plates that do his memory no honor ; 
the former, on the contrary, has never etched one that will 
not be remembered with pleasure. To etch a fine portrait 
is the surest proof of the master ; the human face is the 
grandest subject that any artist ever had. I have always 
thought that Rembrandt's 'Jan Lutma' was the grand old 
man of all etched portraiture, though it is hard to see in 
what possible respect it surpasses ' The Engraver,' ' Becquet,' 
' Drouet,' and other portraits by Whistler. 

"Rembrandt's 'Three Trees,' in landscape, is a greater 
plate than Whistler's 'Zaandam,' though the latter is well- 
nigh perfection. I know no Rembrandt interior that ap- 
proaches Whistler's 'Kitchen,' and I know no exteriors, 
unless possibly a few by Meryon, that approach his ' Palaces,' 
'The Doorway,' 'Two Doorways,' the 'Embroidered Cur- 
tain,' and a score or two of others that are well known to all 
lovers of black and white. 

"This story was started on Whistler ten or twelve years 
ago, and has been on its travels ever since : Some one asked 
him which of his etchings he thought the best. His answer 
was, 'All of them.' And he told the truth. Of plates that 
he thought much of, when I saw him thirteen years ago, the 
little ' Marie Loches,' which is another name for the Mayor's 
residence, was hung over his desk, and I distinctly remem- 
ber that the fine ' Pierrot, ' in the Amsterdam set, was also a 
prime favorite of his. Later I have heard it said that the 
portrait of 'Annie' he regarded as his finest figure piece." 

In February, 1883, he exhibited in London, in the 
rooms of the Fine Arts Society, fifty-one etchings 
and dry-points. 

It was, according to the placards, — and in reality, 
7 97 


— an "Arrangement in Yellow and White," for the 
room was white, with yellow mouldings ; the frames 
of the prints white, the chairs white, the ottomans 
yellow ; the draperies were yellow, with white butter- 
flies ; there were yellow flowers in iyellow Japanese 
vases on the mantels ; and even the attendants were 
clothed in white and yellow. As a French artist re- 
marked, "It was a dream of yellow." 

This, however, is how it struck some of the angry 
critics, who were impaled in the catalogue : 

"While Mr. Whistler's staring study in yellow and white 
was open to the public we did not notice it, — for notice would 
have been advertisement, and we did not choose to advertise 

" Of the arrangement in yellow and white, we note that it 
was simply an insult to the visitors, — almost intolerable to 
any one possessing an eye for color, which Mr. Whistler, 
fortunately for him, does not, — and absolutely sickening (in 
the strictest sense of the word) to those at all sensitive in 
such matters. ' I feel sick and giddy in this hateful room,' 
remarked a lady to us after she had been there but a few 
minutes. Even the common cottage chairs, painted a coarse 
yellow, did not solace the visitors ; and the ornaments on the 
mantel-piece, something like old bottle-necks, only excited a 
faint smile in the sickened company. ' ' ] 

The sea-sick lady was probably an invention of 
the writer. 

Another, apparently somewhat less susceptible to 
the " sickening" effects of yellow, simply says : 

Knowledge, April 5, 1883, p. 208. 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

" Mr. Whistler has on view at the Fine Art Society's some 
half-a-hundred etchings ; but it was not to see these only 
that he invited his friends, and many fine people besides, 
last Saturday. In the laudable effort for a new sensation, 
he had been engaging in literature ; and a grave servant, 
dressed in yellow and white (to suit the temporary decora- 
tion of the walls during the show) pressed into the hands of 
those who had come in all innocence to see the etchings a 
pamphlet in which Mr. Whistler's arrangements had ex- 
tended to an arrangement of critics." 1 

The catalogue which stirred the ire of the critics 
was an innocent little thing in brown-paper cover 
containing a list of the prints ; but beneath each was 
a line or two from the critics, and they were all there 
in outspoken condemnation of the work of the man 
who is now placed, by even the critics, on a plane 
with Rembrandt. Some have since confessed their 
errors in print and begged for the mantle of charity. 

On the title-page appeared : 

"Out of their own mouths shall ye judge them." 
And here, as an example, is what he printed be- 
neath "No. 51, Lagoon; Noon." In mercy the 
names of the critics are omitted. 

* ' Years ago James Whistler was a person of high promise. ' ' 
' ' What the art of Mr. Whistler yields is a tertium quid. ' ' 
' ' All of which gems, I am sincerely thankful to say, I 

cannot appreciate." 

"As we have hinted, the series does not represent any 

Venice that we much care to remember ; for who wants to 

1 The Academy, February 24, 1883, p. 139, 


remember the degradation of what has been noble, the foul- 
ness of what has been fair ?' ' 
" Disastrous failures." 

" Failures that are complete and failures that are partial." 
" A publicity rarely bestowed upon failures at all." 

Whereupon Whistler brought the catalogue to a 
close with these scriptural sentences : 

"Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice 
overtake us ; we wait for light, but behold obscurity ; for 
brightness, but we walk in darkness." 

' ' We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if 
we had no eyes ; we stumble at noonday as in the night." 

"We roar all, like bears." 

Whistler's manner of arraigning his critics was his 
own. No one else could compile such delightful bits 
of literature as were those catalogues he issued from 
time to time ; but the idea of publishing adverse 
criticism with the work criticised was not new. 

To his first edition of " Sartor Resartus" Carlyle — 
Whistler's neighbor in Chelsea — printed as an ap- 
pendix the letter of condemnation which Murray 
the publisher received from his literary adviser and 
which led to the rejection of the manuscript. 

The scheme is not without advantages, — it amuses 
the reader and confounds the critic, to which ends 
books and paintings are created. 

How the galled jades winced may be gathered 
from the following mild comments : 

" Mr. Whistler's catalogue, however, is our present game. 
He takes for motto, ■ Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel ?' 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

But Mr. Whistler mistakes his vocation. He is no butterfly. 
He might be compared, perhaps, to a bird, — the bird that 
can sing but won't. If one judged, however, from some of 
his etchings, one would say a spider was nearer his mark. 
But a butterfly ! the emblem of all that is bright and beauti- 
ful in form and color ! Daniel Lambert might as reason- 
ably have taken the part of the Apothecary in ' Romeo and 
Juliet,' or Julia Pastrana have essayed the role of Imogen. 

"Criticism is powerless with him in many different ways. 
It is powerless to correct his taste for wilfully drawing ill. 
If a school-girl of ten showed such a picture of a human 
being as this (referring to illustration), for instance, we might 
criticise usefully enough. We might point out that no human 
being (we suppose the thing is intended for a human being, 
but it may be meant for a rag-bag) ever had such features or 
such shape. But of what use would it be to tell Mr. Whist- 
ler as much ? He knows it already, only he despises the 
public so much that he thinks it will do well enough for them. 

"Again, criticism is powerless to explain what was meant 
by some such figure as this, in No. 33. The legs we can 
especially answer for, while the appendages which come 
where a horse has his feet and pasterns are perfect tran- 
scripts — they are things we never could forget. We have 
not the faintest idea what they really are. We would not 
insult Mr. Whistler by supposing he tried to draw a horse 
with the customary equine legs, and so failed as to produce 
these marvels. Perhaps Dr. Wilson knows of some animal 
limbed thus strangely. 

"It is because of such insults as these to common sense 
and common understanding, and from no ill-will we bear 
him, that we refuse seriously to criticise such work as Mr. 
Whistler has recently brought before the public. Whatever 
in it is good adds to his offence, for it shows the offence to be 
wilful, if not premeditated. ' ' 1 

1 Knowledge, April 6, 1883, pp. 208, 209. 


Poor etchings, — condemned for their virtues, con- 
demned for their faults, — there is no health in them. 

And these and many similar things were written, 
only twenty years ago, of the greatest etchings the 
world has known since the days of Rembrandt. 

When one thinks of the obscurity of Rembrandt 
to the day of his death, and how little his work was 
known for long after, of the passing of Meryon with- 
out recognition, it must be conceded that Whistler is 
coming into his own amazingly fast. 

Senefelder discovered the process, but Whistler 
perfected the art of lithography. It was not until 
1877, twenty years after he began etching, that he 
made his first lithographs. 

There had been many before him, but none like 

During the first half of the century the process 
was in great vogue in France, and men like Ingres, 
Millet, Corot, and Delacroix tried the facile stone. 

One can readily understand how so fascinating a 
process appealed to Whistler, and the wonder is that 
he did not attempt it earlier. 

The use of transfer-paper, whereby the artist is 
enabled to make his drawing when and where he 
pleases upon the paper, instead of being hampered 
by the heavy stone, has greatly advanced the art, 
though drawing on the stone possesses certain ad- 
vantages and attractions over the paper. 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

Not many years ago Whistler was called as an 
expert witness in a case which involved the ques- 
tion whether the use of transfer-paper was lithog- 
raphy. The result of the case is of no consequence. 
While on the stand, he turned to the judge, and 
said : 

" May I be permitted to explain, my lord, to these 
gentlemen (the jury) why we are all here?" 

" Certainly not," answered the court ; "we are all 
here because we cannot help it." 

The witty ruling of the court deprived those 
present of remarks which would have been not only 
to the point but greatly amusing. 

It was in this case that an artist who had written 
many fine things about Whistler and his work ap- 
peared as a witness on the other side, and in cross- 
examining the great painter, counsel called attention 
to one of the complimentary things that had been 
written (" Mr. Whistler's almost nothings are price- 
less"), and asked, "You don't dissent to that, do 
you, Mr. Whistler?" 

Whistler smiled, and replied, " It is very simple 

and very proper that Mr. should say that sort 

of a thing, but I attach no importance to it." 

And it is really true that no man ever enjoyed 
more having nice things said about his work, and no 
man ever attributed less importance to either favor- 
ble or unfavorable comments. He accepted both as 
a matter of course and of no consequence ; neither 
he nor his work was affected in the slightest 



In 1896 he exhibited some seventy lithographs in 
the rooms of the Fine Arts Society, and they were 
a revelation of the possibilities of the process in the 
hands of a master of line. 

The Way catalogue, now out of print, contained 
one hundred and thirty, purporting to cover those 
printed down to and including 1896. 

To this list must be added at least eight more 
which are well known, and possibly others. 

There are, therefore, in existence nearly four hun- 
dred etchings and dry-points by Whistler, and prob- 
ably not less than one hundred and fifty lithographs, 
— a large volume of work for one man, even if he 
produced nothing else. 

Stress is here laid upon the mere volume of his 
work to meet some remarkable views which have 
been put forth concerning him and to correct the 
popular impression that his controversies diverted 
him from his art. 

He was but sixty-nine when he died. His first 
etchings appeared in 1 8 5 7-5 8. For the remainder of 
his life he averaged twelve plates and lithographs a 
year, — one a month ; and of this great number, it is 
conceded by conservative experts, the percentage of 
successful plates and stones is much larger than that 
of any of his great predecessors. In fact, there are no 
failures. Some of the plates were more sketchy and 
of slighter importance than others, but every one 
is the genuine expression of the artist's mood at the 
moment of execution, and precious accordingly. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

Not many years ago there was in a certain city an 
exhibition of the slight but pretty work of a famous 
French illustrator. By his grace, and especially by 
his happy facility in the drawing of children in 
checked frocks and gray or brown or blue stockings 
and stubby shoes, the work attracted attention, and, 
as always happens with the pretty and the novel, 
aroused an enthusiasm quite out of proportion to its 
real merit. 

Two men fell into a dispute over the merits of the 
little drawings, one siding with the throng and main- 
taining they were great, the other insisting they 
were simply pretty, — too pretty to be good and 
really quite hard and mechanical in execution, — in 
fact, quite inconsequential as art. 

"Look," said he, "at this figure of a child. See 
how the outline is painfully traced in black and then 
the colors filled in as mechanically and methodically 
as if a stencil had been used. What would a Jap 
say to that?" 

" He would say it is fine. It is Japanese in color 
and motive." 

" About as Japanese as a colored illustration in a 
modern magazine." The discussion became heated. 

Oddly enough, at that moment a Japanese expert, 
who was crossing the country on his way to Europe 
to catalogue some collections, entered the room, and 
he was appealed to for his opinion of the drawing in 
question. In broken English he said : 

" It is — very — pretty, very pretty ; but — I not 
know how you say it, — but it is what you call — 



Spencerian, — yes, that is the name of the copy- 
books — Spencerian writing, while a Japanese draw- 
ing is the — autograph — that is the difference — the 

And that is the difference between some of the 
work of even the great ones before him and what- 
ever Whistler did, — everything he touched was his 
autograph ; whereas with even Rembrandt there is 
the feeling now and then, though seldom, of the set 
purpose, of the determination to secure a certain 
result, of the intention to do something for others. 
Whistler never did anything for any one but himself. 
He never touched needle or brush to please model, 
sitter, or patron. Whenever the work in hand 
ceased to amuse and interest him as a creation of his 
own fancy, he dropped it. He could not work after 
his interest had evaporated. 

There is in existence a water-color 1 bearing 
Whistler's signature on the back, and also this 
endorsement : " From my window. This was his 
first attempt at water-color. — E. W. Godwin." 

It is a characteristic view of the Thames with Old 
Battersea Bridge reaching almost from side to side. 

In his pastels and water-colors, as in his etchings 
and lithographs, he never forced a delicate medium 
beyond its limitations. 

Of all artists who ever lived, Whistler made the 
least mystery of his art. 

1 Owned by Frank Gair Macomber, Esq., of Boston. 
1 06 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

He not only expressed his intentions fully in his 
art, but also in unmistakable language. 

In the first of his "Propositions," published many 
years ago, he laid down certain fundamental prin- 
ciples which controlled his use of etching, water- 
color, and pastel, the first proposition being : 

"That in art it is criminal to go beyond the 
means used in its exercise." 

And he defined the limits of the etcher's plate, 
and by implication the dimensions of the water- 
color and pastel — art's most fragile means. 

In the famous "Propositions No. 2" he formu- 
lated the principles which governed his work as a 
painter, the first being : 

"A picture is finished when all trace of the 
means used to bring about the end has disap- 

And the last : 

"The masterpiece should appear as the flower to 
the painter, — perfect in its bud as in its bloom, — with 
no reason to explain its presence, no mission to ful- 
fil, a joy to the artist, a delusion to the philanthro- 
pist, a puzzle to the botanist, an accident of senti- 
ment and alliteration to the literary man." l 

These two sets of "Propositions," read in con- 
nection with his one lecture, the "Ten o'Clock," 
which was delivered in London, February 20, 1885, 


1 Gentle Art, p. 116. 


at Cambridge, March 24, and Oxford, April 30, 
contain his creed in art. 

Many a painter has written books explanatory of 
his art, but none has ever stated so plainly and so 
tersely the principles which actually governed all he 
did. Whistler was so epigrammatic in utterance 
that he was not taken seriously, but accused of 
paradox. But whoever reads what he has so 
soberly and earnestly said will better understand his 

And whatever may be thought of reprinting entire 
the " Gentle Art," there can be no question about 
the great need of scattering broadcast the "Propo- 
sitions" and the "Ten o' Clock." 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 


Chelsea — The Royal Academy — "Portrait of His 
Mother" — H Carlyle" — Grosvenor Gallery — The 
" Peacock Room" — Concerning Exhibitions. 

After — possibly because — his ''White Girl" was 
rejected at the Salon, he went to London and made 
his home at Chelsea, where he had as neighbors 
Carlyle, Rossetti, George Eliot, and others of note 
in art and literature. 

Carlyle's description of Chelsea as it was in 1834, 
when he and his wife moved there, is interesting, — 
for the place changed little before Whistler came. 
Writing to his wife concerning the house he had 
found, Carlyle said : 

"The street runs down upon the river, which I suppose 
you might see by stretching out your head from the front 
window, at a distance of fifty yards on the left. We are 
called ' Cheyne Row' proper (pronounced Chainie Row), and 
area 'genteel neighborhood;' two old ladies on one side, 
unknown character on the other, but with ' pianos. ' The 
street is flag pathed, sunk storied, iron railed, all old-fash- 
ioned and tightly done up ; looks out on a rank of sturdy 
old pollarded (that is, beheaded) lime-trees, standing there 
like giants in tawtie wigs (for the new boughs are still 
young) ; beyond this a high brick wall ; backwards a garden, 
the size of our back one at Comely Bank, with trees, etc., in 
bad culture ; beyond this green hayfields and tree avenues, 



once a bishop's pleasure-grounds, an unpicturesque yet rather 
cheerful outlook. The house itself is eminent, antique, wain- 
scoted to the very ceiling, and has been all new painted and 
repaired ; broadish stair with massive balustrade (in the old 
style), corniced and as thick as one's thigh ; floors thick as a 
rock, wood of them here and there worm-eaten, yet capable 
of cleanness, and still with thrice the strength of a modern 
floor. And then as to rooms, Goody ! Three stories beside 
the sunk story, in every one of them three apartments, in 
depth something like forty feet in all — a front dining-room 
(marble chimney-piece, etc.), then a back dining-room or 
breakfast-room, a little narrower by reason of the kitchen 
stairs ; then out of this, and narrower still (to allow a back 
window, you consider), a china-room or pantry, or I know 
not what, all shelved and fit to hold crockery for the whole 
street. Such is the ground area, which, of course, continues 
to the top, and furnishes every bedroom with a dressing- 
room or second bedroom ; on the whole a most massive, 
roomy, sufficient old house, with places, for example, to 
hang, say, three dozen hats or cloaks on, and as many 
crevices and queer old presses and shelved closets (all tight 
and new painted in their way) as would gratify the most 
covetous Goody, — rent, thirty -five pounds ! I confess I am 
strongly tempted. Chelsea is a singular heterogeneous kind 
of spot, very dirty and confused in some places, quite beau- 
tiful in others, abounding with antiquities and the traces of 
great men, — Sir Thomas More, Steele, Smollett, etc. Our 
row, which for the last three doors or so is a street, and none 
of the noblest, runs out upon a ' Parade' (perhaps they call 
it), running along the shore of the river, a broad highway 
with huge shady trees, boats lying moored, and a smell of 
shipping and tar. Battersea Bridge (of wood) a few yards 
off ; the broad river, with white-trowsered, white-shirted Cock- 
neys dashing by like arrows in thin, long canoes of boats ; 
beyond, the green, beautiful knolls of Surrey, with their 
villages, — on the whole a most artificial, green-painted, yet 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

lively, fresh, almost opera-looking business, such as you can 
fancy. Finally, Chelsea abounds more than any place in 
omnibi, and they take you to Coventry Street for sixpence. 
Revolve all this in thy fancy and judgment, my child, and 
see what thou canst make of it. " 1 

Between Whistler and Rossetti there sprang up a 
friendship that was singular, considering how dia- 
metrically opposite they were to one another in 
nearly everything. They had, however, this in 
common, — each was in search of a degree of the 
beautiful quite beyond the grasp of the ordinary 
mortal ; but of the two, Whistler's is incomparably 
the finer art, for it is the purer and more abstract, 
while Rossetti's painting exhibited the literary bent 
very conspicuously, — it was inextricably involved 
with his poetry. 

One day he showed Whistler a sketch which 
Whistler liked, and he urged Rossetti to go on with 
it ; but Rossetti became so infatuated with his con- 
ception that instead of finishing the picture he wrote 
a sonnet on the subject and read it to Whistler, who 
said : 

" Rossetti take out the picture and frame the 

Life in Chelsea in those days had its drawbacks. 

Whistler's utter lack of commercial instinct, his 
dislike for the dealers, the habit he had of falling 
out with any one who discussed money matters with 
him, and that reluctance to part with pictures which 

1 Life of Carlyle, First Forty Years, vol. ii., pp. 345-6. 


was a conspicuous trait through life, often involved 
him in trouble financially. 

In 1879 E. W. Godwin designed and built for 
him a house in Tite Street. It was of white brick, 
and known as the " White House," and is described 
as having been very artistic in so far as it was settled 
and furnished, but for some time only two rooms 
were in order. " Everywhere you encountered great 
packing-cases full of pretty things, and saw prepara- 
tions for papering and carpeting, but somehow or 
other nothing ever got any forwarder. What was 
done was perfect in its way. The white wainscoting, 
the rich draperies, the rare Oriental china, the pic- 
tures and their frames, the old silver, all had a charm 
and a history of their own." * 

His powers of persuasion were such that it is said 
he once tamed a bailiff — temporarily in possession — 
to a degree of docility little short of amazing, — a 
favorite word of his. 

" When the man first appeared he tried to wear his hat in 
the drawing-room and smoke about the house. Whistler 
soon settled that. He went out into the hall and fetched a 
stick, and daintily knocked the man's hat off. The man 
was so surprised that he forgot to be angry, and within a day 
or two he had been trained to wait at table. One morning, 
when Mr. Whistler was shaving, a message was brought up 
that the man (he was always known in the house as ' the 
man, ' as if he were the only one of his species) wanted to 
speak to him. 

1 McClure s Magazine, vol. vii. p. 374. 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

" 'Very well, send him up,' said Mr. Whistler. He went 
on shaving, and when the man came in said, abruptly, 
1 Now, then, what do you want ?' 

" ' I want my money, sir.' 

' ' * What money ?' 

" ' My possession money, sir.' 

" 'What, haven't they given it to you ?' 

" ' No, sir ; it's you that have to give it to me.' 

" ' Oh, the deuce I have !' And Mr. Whistler laughingly 
gave him to understand that, if he wanted money, his only 
chance was to apply elsewhere. 

" 'Well, I think it's very hard, sir,' the man began to 
snivel ; ' I have my own family to keep, and my own rent to 
pay ' 

"'I'll tell you what I advise you to do,' Mr. Whistler 
returned, as he gently pushed him out of the room : ' you 
should do as I do, and have " a man" in your own house.' 

"Soon after this the man came and said that if he was not 
paid he would have to put bills up outside the house an- 
nouncing a sale. And, sure enough, a few days after great 
posters were stuck up all over the front of the house, an- 
nouncing so many tables, and so many chairs, and so much 
old Nankin china for sale on a given day. Mr. Whistler 
enjoyed the joke hugely, and hastened to send out invita- 
tions to all his friends to a luncheon-party, adding, as a post- 
script, ' You will know the house by the bills of sale stuck 
up outside.' And the bailiff proved an admirable butler, 
and the party one of the merriest ever known. ' ' l 

The " White House" was finally sold, and it is 
said that when he moved out he wrote on the wall, 
" Except the Lord build the house, their labor is in 
vain that build it, — E. W. Godwin, R.S.A., built 
this one." 

1 McClure s Magazine, vol. vii. p. 374. 


Speaking of architects, the story is told that he 
was once dining, and dining well, at the house of a 
friend in London. Towards the end of the dinner 
he was obliged to leave the table and run up-stairs 
to write a note. In a few moments a great noise 
was heard in the hall, and Whistler was found to 
have fallen down the stairs. "Who is your archi- 
tect?" he asked. His host told him. "I might 
have known it ; the teetotaler !" 

By the irony of fate the "White House" was 
afterwards occupied and much altered by the de- 
tested critic of the Times, — detested possibly be- 
cause he occupied and dared to alter the house, — 
and Whistler asked : 

"Shall the birthplace of art become the tomb 
of its parasite?" 

It was this critic who pronounced a water-color 
drawing of Ruskin by Herkomer the best oil por- 
trait the painter had ever done, — a mistake Whistler 
never let the unlucky writer forget. 

In those days he exhibited quite frequently at the 
Royal Academy. 

Among the earliest pictures exhibited was "At 
the Piano." It attracted the attention of the Scotch 
painter John Phillip, who wished to buy it. Whist- 
ler left the price to him, and Phillip sent a check for 
thirty guineas, which was entirely satisfactory, so far 
as any one knows. 

Thirty thousand dollars has already been paid for 
one of his very early pictures, and for any one of a 




OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

half-dozen of his important canvases a bid of fifty 
thousand dollars may be had any day. 

It is a question of only a few years when Whist- 
ler's paintings will sell as high as Rembrandt's. The 
great galleries of Europe have not yet entered the 
field, and many of the great private collections have 
no example of his work. A few Americans, but not 
many out of the large number of those who buy 
pictures regardless of cost, are already inquiring. 
When all these factors come into competition, as 
they will soon or late, prices will be realized that 
will make the dearest of English or French painters 
seem cheap. 

In 1872 the portrait of his mother, an "Arrange- 
ment in Gray and Black," was sent in to the Acad- 
emy, and accepted only after a sharp controversy, 
wherein Sir William Boxall, R.A., gave the com- 
mittee their choice between hanging the picture and 
accepting his own resignation as one of their num- 
ber. "For," said he, "it shall never be told of me 
that I served on a committee which refused such a 
work as that." The picture was eventually placed 
with the "black-and-white" exhibit, drawings, en- 
gravings, etc., and apparently only the critics saw it. 
What they said Whistler has himself recorded. 

Somebody has asked, Suppose Whistler had been 
taken up and made an A.R.A., and in due course an 
R.A. — what then? 

The thing is well-nigh inconceivable ; and even if 
an A.R.A., his innate dislike for sham and preten- 



sion in art and his sense of humor would have pre- 
vented him from becoming a full-fledged academi- 
cian in a body wherein, as in all similar bodies, 
mutual appreciation, or at least mutual restraint 
from honest depreciation, is essential to existence. 

Whistler would probably have accepted the first 
degree, the A.R.A., of the fraternity, — for all his life 
he was personally, but not in his art, singularly sus- 
ceptible to the praise of his fellow-men ; but he 
would have remained in the Academy about as long 
as he remained president of the British Society of 
Painters, — just long enough to overturn things gen- 
erally, and then get out. 

Once, when taken to task for referring to a painter 
who was only an A.R.A. as an R.A., he retorted that 
it was a difference without distinction. 

To the orthodox academicians his work was a 
mystery. Once, when dining in a restaurant in the 
West End, the waiter, having difficulty in supplying 
Whistler's wants, said, "Well, sir, I can't quite make 
out what you mean." 

"Gad, sir," he cried, in tones of amazement, "are 
you an R.A. ?" 

It is not within the range of possibilities that the 
Royal Academy, or any other institution, would have 
had any perceptible influence on Whistler's art, — on 
that side he was indifferent to the influences which 
affect most men, to considerations of gain and 
popular appreciation. 

In the account of a certain public sale the state- 
ment was printed that when one of his pictures was 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

put up it was loudly hissed. He sat down and wrote 
the editor acknowledging the compliment, "the dis- 
tinguished though unconscious compliment so pub- 
licly paid. It is rare that recognition so complete is 
made during the lifetime of the painter." 

Another time he said, "There are those, they 
tell me, who have the approval of the public, and 

Long after he ceased to exhibit at the Academy a 
lady met him at one of the exhibitions, and ex- 
pressed her surprise. 

"Well, you know," he answered, "one must do 
something to lend interest to the show, — so here I 

Years after, the Academy, while Leighton was 
president, invited him to send some of his pictures, 
and here is the account of what happened : l 

" He was in Brussels. There came a telegram from him 
to me which was a cry of exultation : 

" ' My dear S. : The Lord hath delivered them into my 
hands. I am sending you by post their last dying confession. ' 

"And so next morning the post duly brought a letter 
from Whistler inclosing the official proposal from the Royal 
Academy, signed by Mr. Eaton, secretary to that distin- 
guished body, inviting Whistler to contribute to a loan exhi- 
bition then presently to be held. Whistler wrote : 

" ' Of course, I refuse. You know me too well to doubt 
that. Do they think they can use me after so long trampling 
on me? Do they think I don't see what they want? Do 

1 G. W. Smalley, in the London Times. Reprinted in the 
New York Tribune, August 19, 1903. 



they think I need them ? At last they perceive that they 
need me, but in the day of their extremity they shall ask in 

' ' I am quoting from memory, but I give the substance 
accurately. He inclosed his answer to the Academy, long 
since a public document, with permission to cable it if I liked 
to America. I telegraphed Whistler begging him to send no 
answer till my letter should reach him. He wired : ' I do 
not understand, but I will wait till to-morrow.' I wrote to 
him in the best ink, as Merimee said, at my command. I 
tried to point out that the Academy had offered him the 
amende honorable ; that their invitation was an acknowledg- 
ment of their error, and was meant as an atonement ; that 
if he sought to humiliate his enemies, no humiliation could 
be so complete as their public surrender, of which the proof 
would be the hanging of his works on their walls, and much 
else which I thought obvious and conclusive. And I begged 
him to remember that I had always thought him right, and 
always said the world would come round to him, and that 
now, as ever before, whether right or wrong, mine was the 
counsel of a friend. The answer came by wire early next 
morning : ' Alas, my dear S., that you too should have gone 
over to the enemy !' I believe if I had but besought him to 
consider that his acceptance would have been a service to 
art, and if he could himself have thought that it would be, 
he would have accepted. I never saw Whistler again, never 
heard from him ; a friendship of twenty years came there 
and then to an end — on his side. ' ' 

In 1 897 a circular was mailed to him, addressed, 
"The Academy, England." At the post-office they 
added "Burlington House," where it was declined. 
Finally the circular reached him, bearing the en- 
dorsement, "Not known at the R. A." He gave it 
to the press, saying, " In these days of doubtful fre- 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

quentation, it is my rare good fortune to be able to 
send you an unsolicited, official, and final certificate 
of character." 

The fact was, mail addressed simply " Whistler, 
England," would reach him. 

The Grosvenor Gallery, opened in 1877 by Sir 
Coutts Lindsay, offered an opportunity to many a 
man who either would not or could not exhibit at 
the Academy. 

It was here that some of Whistler's best things 
were shown, — the portraits of Irving as Philip II. ; 
Miss Rosa Corder ; Miss Gilchrist, the actress ; the 
Carlyle ; Miss Alexander ; and Lady Archibald Camp- 
bell, commonly known as "The Lady with the Yel- 
low Buskin," and many of his famous nocturnes. 

Whistler had a very peculiar laugh, — demoniacal 
his enemies called it, — and it is said that while his 
portrait was being painted, Irving caught this laugh 
and used it with effect in the part of Mephistopheles, 
— but then, who knows ? 

The story of the painting and the naming of "The 
Yellow Buskin" is worth repeating. 

Lady Archibald Campbell was an exceedingly 
handsome woman, and Whistler expressed the desire 
to paint her portrait. She graciously consented, 
and the sittings began. 

In those days Whistler was looked upon in London 
as little less than a mountebank in art, and one day, 
putting it as nicely as she could, she said : 

" My husband wished me to say that he — he ap- 


predated the honor of your inviting me to sit for a 
portrait, but that — that he did not wish to be un- 
derstood as committing himself in any way, and the 
picture must not be considered a commission." 

" Dear me, no," said Whistler, as he painted away ; 
" under no circumstances. Lord Archibald need give 
himself no uneasiness, — my compensation is in your 
condescension. We are doing this for the pleasure 
there is in it." 

The portrait was finished, exhibited as " La Dame 
au Erode quin Jaune" — and duly ridiculed. 

Lady Campbell's friends expressed surprise that 
she should have permitted so eccentric an artist to 
do so ugly a thing. But time went on ; the picture 
made a profound sensation and won its way. 

Some time after, Whistler met Lady Campbell in 
London, and she said to him : 

" My dear Mr. Whistler, I hear my portrait has 
been exhibited everywhere and become famous." 

"Sh — sh — sh !" with finger on lips. "So it has, 
my dear Lady Archibald ; but every discretion has 
been observed that Lord Campbell could desire, — 
your name is not mentioned. The portrait is known 
as 'The Yellow Buskin.'" 

It is now in the Wilstach collection, in Philadel- 

Whistler preferred to exhibit his work under con- 
ditions which he controlled. As early as 1874 he 
gave a special exhibition in London, and in the years 
1880, 1881, 1883, 1884, and 1886 he exhibited 



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OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

either prints or paintings in the rooms of the Fine 
Arts Society. 

He always occupied the place of honor with the 
International Society at Knightsbridge. 

Occasionally he would use the galleries of dealers, 
but not often, and then only upon his own terms. 

While living at Chelsea he had Carlyle as a near 
neighbor, and of his own notion he painted the por- 
trait that now hangs in Glasgow. 

These two extraordinary beings were quite conge- 
nial. The dogmatic old philosopher, then past sev- 
enty-five, sat day after day to the eccentric painter, 
who was nearly forty years his junior, as patiently as 
if he were a professional model, and the sittings were 
long and tedious. 

One day, as he was leaving, quite exhausted, he 
met at the door a little girl in white, and he asked 
her name. 

"I am Miss Alexander," she said, primly, " and I 
am going to have my portrait painted." 

The sage shook his head in commiseration, and 
muttered, as he passed on : 

" Puir lassie, puir lassie !" 

If proof were required of the underlying sincerity 
and earnestness of Whistler in those days when the 
world refused to take him seriously, this long and 
intimate association with Carlyle would be more than 

They were neighbors. Carlyle had every oppor- 
tunity of seeing Whistler on the street and in his 



studio. Seemingly two beings could not be less 
sympathetic, and yet the philosopher who had so 
few good words for any one, who was the implacable 
foe of sham and falsehood, who was intolerant of the 
society of others, who cared little for art and less for 
artists, freely gave his time and society to the most 
unpopular painter in England. 

In truth there was a good deal in common be- 
tween the two, — in the attitude of the one towards 
literature and what his fellow-writers were saying, 
and in the attitude of the other towards art and what 
his fellow-painters were doing. Each stood in his 
own sphere for the highest ideals, and no doubt each 
recognized in the other the quality of sincerity in his 

Poor Carlyle ! your name should never be men- 
tioned without an anathema for the scavengers who 
dealt with your memory. If they are not suffering 
the torments of the damned, the mills of the gods 
have ceased to turn. 

Froude prefaced the Life of Carlyle with a long 
protestation that it contained the truth, the whole 
truth, and nothing but the truth ; which, it seems, 
according to even his notions, was a lie ; for in the 
secrecy of his closet he prepared a pamphlet con- 
taining the revelations of the Jewsbury creature, — 
the expert opinion of "an ill-natured old maid," as 
Mrs. Carlyle called her, — to the effect that Carlyle 
should never have married ; and this pamphlet, con- 
taining the salacious tittle-tattle between himself and 


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OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

this old maid, is given the world as presumably his 
last instalment of revelations, though no one knows 
how much similar stuff the Jewsbury creature, a 
romancer by profession, may have left pigeon-holed 
for still further harm. 

And the answer to it all is that Carlyle, in spite 
of the old maid's opinion, was married ; and what 
is more to the point, remained married forty years, 
with no more of differences and dissensions, even 
accepting all the Froude-Jewsbury tattle, than any 
good wife will have with any good Scotchman ; and 
during their long married life she was a help and 
an inspiration to her husband, and after her death 
she was mourned as few wives in the history of man- 
kind have been mourned. 

A depth beyond the imagination of Dante must 
be found for the Froude-Jewsbury combination. 

As the portrait neared completion, Carlyle took a 
good look at it one day, seemed pleased, and said : 

"Weel, man, you have given me a clean collar, 
and that is more than Meester Watts has done." 

The portrait was begun and ended as a labor of 
love, and for nearly twenty years it remained unsold. 

After Carlyle died some citizens of Glasgow, from 
purely patriotic motives, and with no appreciation 
whatsoever of the painting, thought it should be 
purchased, and a public subscription was started. 

When the amount first talked of — quite a small 
sum — had been nearly subscribed, Whistler learned 
that the subscription paper expressly disavowed all 



approval of himself and his art, whereupon he 
promptly more than doubled the price, to the dis- 
may of the canny Scots, who wished to buy the por- 
trait without the art ; and when they hesitated, he 
again raised the price, to their utter discomfiture, and 
the picture was not purchased until 1891. 

It is now owned by the corporation of Glasgow, 
and hangs in the public gallery surrounded by a 
mass of lesser works which completely dwarf its 
great proportions and render adequate appreciation 

It is worth while to visit Glasgow to see this por- 
trait, but until the authorities have the good judgment 
to give it a room, or at least a wall to itself, the 
journey will prove an exasperation. 

The hanging of pictures is a "lost art ;" and most 
of the art of pictures is lost in the hanging. 

A picture is painted in a certain environment of 
light, color, and tone, — and to Whistler this environ- 
ment was a vital consideration. For the time being 
the canvas is the one conspicuous thing in the studio, 
of even greater importance than subject or model. 
From this environment of creation, and with which 
it is in perfect harmony, it is violently forced into 
conjunction with great squares of atrocious gilt 
frames and expanses of clashing canvases. 

A gallery of pictures is the slaughter-house of 
art ; annual exhibitions are the shambles of beauty. 

So far as galleries are concerned, the advantage is 
usually with the dealer, for he knows the value of 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

arrangement and shows his best things more or less 
detached. One by one the gems of his collection 
are presented to the customer and time given for 

There are but two uses to which a painting can 
be put with any sense of the fitness of things : it 
may be used decoratively alone or in connection 
with one or two others which harmonize and which 
are distributed to produce a perfect effect ; this is 
the noblest use to which a painting of any kind can 
be put, the production of an effect in which the 
painting, however great, is but an element in a per- 
fect whole. 

Another and commoner use is the enjoyment of 
a picture by itself, as one reads a poem or listens to 
music, more or less oblivious to all surroundings. 
It is obvious that this sort of enjoyment implies the 
subordination of all surroundings to the painting, or 
the poem, or the music, the arrangement of the 
environment so as to secure the greatest possible 
freedom from intrusive and distracting sights and 
sounds, — in short, as regards painting, the reproduc- 
tion in a sense of the atmosphere of the studio 
where the picture was created, or of the place, altar, 
or chapel for which it was intended ; and it means 
most emphatically freedom from sharp contrast with 
pictures by other men and of other times, schools, 
and conditions, however good, which will clash pre- 
cisely as would two orchestras playing different 
pieces in the same hall. 



One can imagine Whistler and Carlyle — painter 
and philosopher, two masters, each in his vocation — 
in the studio, and the growing portrait, a thing of 
beauty there, a bond of union between two men so 
divergent, and one can imagine how beautiful the 
portrait would be anywhere if by itself amidst har- 
monious surroundings, whether used as the chief 
ornament of a dignified hall or placed in a more 
neutral atmosphere for study and appreciation. 
But one cannot imagine more destructive surround- 
ings than those of a public gallery, the walls of 
which teem with writhing, wriggling things in huge 
gilt frames and glaring colors. 

And the painters, who ought to know better, but 
who encourage these great collections and exhibi- 
tions, who live for them, work for them, slave for 
them, are more to blame for the existence of these 
heterogeneous conglomerations than the public, who 
do not know better, but walk helplessly about amidst 
endless rows of staring canvases, dimly conscious 
that all is not right. 

Pictures of equal merit do not necessarily hang 
together. A Valesquez and a Raphael, each su- 
premely beautiful in the place for which it is in- 
tended, produce an inharmonious effect if placed 
side by side. 

A rabble, with men or pictures, is a throng com- 
posed of more or less incongruous and unsympa- 
thetic units. 

With the exception of the few instances, as in 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler n 

the Turner room in the National Gallery in London, 
where the works of one man are grouped for the 
express purpose of comparison and study, every 
collection of pictures is a rabble, and as a whole 

Nor does the grouping of the works of one man 
in one room produce a beautiful effect, a beautiful 
room ; not at all, for they are grouped for a scientific 
rather than an aesthetic purpose, for the purpose of 
study and comparison in a room which is, as it 
should be, otherwise barren and neutral. 

One or, at most, two fine pictures are all any 
ordinary room will stand, and to produce an effect 
wherein nothing overwhelmingly predominates, but 
everything finds its place and remains there, re- 
quires genius different from but of the same high 
order as that of the painter, and that sort of genius 
has been lacking in the Western world for some 

So low has the once great art of painting fallen 
that it has helplessly relinquished its original field 
of great achievement, the adornment of buildings 
inside and out, and that has become a separate trade 
so incompetently followed that the phrase " interior 
decorator" is one of reproach. 

And yet little as the commercial "interior dec- 
orator" knows about decoration, it is safer to trust to 
his fustian stock of burlaps, wall-papers, imitation 
leathers, metals, lustres, and illuminations than follow 
the guidance of the painters themselves, — for, with 
rare exceptions, they know nothing beyond the 



narrow confines of their frames, and their own houses 
and studios resemble curiosity-shops. 

The art of decoration, which implies the co-op- 
eration of architect, sculptor, and painter as a unit, 
has not been practised since the sixteenth century, 
and not in any high degree of perfection since three 
hundred years before. 

With the disintegration of the union among the 
arts, each has accomplished endless detached and 
isolated perfections, but nothing that is really worth 
while in the sense that a Greek temple or a Gothic 
cathedral was worth while, — for nothing so chaste 
and perfect as the former or so sublime and beau- 
tiful as the latter has been done since each of the 
three constructive arts began to work in jealous in- 
dependence of the others. 

Rossetti and Whistler were both friends of the 
wealthy and eccentric ship-owner F. R. Leyland, of 
No. 50 Prince's Gate. He was a collector of things 
rare and beautiful, a "patron" of art and artists, a 
musician, and altogether a character one associates 
with Romance rather than with London. 

It was for him that Whistler painted the famous 
" Peacock Room," under the following circum- 
stances : 

Leyland had bought the " Princess of the Land 
of Porcelain," and one day Whistler went to see it 
in place. He found it in a dining-room which was 
richly decorated with costly Spanish leather and a 
heavy ceiling of wood, a place altogether too sombre 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

for his bright and brilliant "Princess," and he pro- 
tested against the discord. 

"What would you do?" asked Leyland. 

"Paint the room." 

"What ! paint that beautiful Spanish leather?" 

" Most assuredly, — if this is to be the boudoir of 
the 'Princess.' " 

Whistler was told to go ahead and make the room 
harmonize with the painting. 

He started in and covered every inch of wall 
surface, even the insides of the shutters, with a won- 
derful scheme of decoration in blue and gold, the 
brilliant coloring of the peacock, making a color- 
effect rich beyond description. 

Unhappily, nothing had been said concerning the 
price, and that finally named by Leyland seemed to 
Whistler quite inadequate ; but he made no com- 
plaint and went on with the work. The trouble 
came when Leyland paid in pounds instead of 
in guineas. That was more than Whistler could 

All professional men in England being paid in 
guineas, he would not permit art to be dealt with as 
merchandise. He felt, therefore, that he had been 
robbed of his shillings, and the whole affair, which 
from the beginning had been a matter of pleasure 
rather than of profit with him, was placed on a com- 
mercial footing. Considering the time spent, the 
surface covered, the work done, the price fixed by 
Leyland was quite inadequate. Then, to pay in scant 

9 129 


pounds, instead of full guineas, that was, in truth, 
adding insult to injury. 

The work was not quite complete, and he took his 
revenge by painting his "patron" in the guise of a 
peacock, with his claws on what might be mere deco- 
ration, or, as any one might fancy, a pile of guineas. 
The likeness was not immediately perceptible, but, 
with a hint, the world soon saw it, and laughed. 

Leyland has been dead a long time, and the house 
has passed from his family, but the " Peacock Room" 
is still in existence, and the curious visitor is occa- 
sionally, but not often, admitted. The "Princess" no 
longer hangs at one end, for long ago she went to 
Scotland, and will soon find her way to America; 
but the two peacocks are at the other end, — one the 
personification of the grasping "patron" and the 
other bearing a faint though perceptible likeness to 
the defiant painter with the white lock. 

The shelves, which were once filled with the 
rarest of blue-and-white china, are now given over 
to books, and altogether the place is but a melan- 
choly reminder of former beauty. But the decora- 
tion is in good condition, and could the walls and 
ceilings be removed and the "Princess" restored, the 
original effect would be reproduced. 

The construction of the room was not Whistler's, 
so he worked under great disadvantages in dealing 
with architectural features, particularly the ceiling, 
which he did not like ; so the room, if ever removed, 
would not represent his ideas of proportion and 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

construction. It would simply show how he made 
the best of a difficult situation. 

The architect who designed the room and looked 
upon the house as his stepping-stone to fame, when 
he saw the — to him- — desecration, was completely 
unbalanced, went insane, and died not long after. 

If opportunities had offered, Whistler would have 
been a great decorator, for such was his suscepti- 
bility to color that he could not tolerate discordant 
effects about him. It was ever his habit to decorate 
his studio, his house, or any rooms he occupied to 
suit his exceedingly fastidious taste. 

He did not " decorate" in the sense the term is 
accepted nowadays. In truth, the casual visitor to 
his studio or to his house would depart under the 
impression there was no decoration at all, for neither 
figures nor patterns made the walls attractive, yet 
from floor to ceiling every square inch was a matter 
of extreme solicitude. He would mix colors and 
apply them with his own hands until the room was 
in harmony. 

Even the great barn of an attic which was his 
studio in Paris was painted by him, so that from its 
dark — not black — rich oak floor, along base-boards 
and walls, to sloping roof, the effect was such as he 
sought as an environment for his pictures, — a brown, 
a grayish brown, a soft and singular shade of brown, 
hard to describe, difficult to see, but delightful to 
feel in its sober and retiring neutrality, — and that is 
the best color, the best tone, against which to hang 



Whistler's paintings in any general exhibition, for it 
remains quietly and unobtrusively in the background, 
and at the same time the silvery quality in it gives 
it life. 

When London laughed at his " Yellow and 
White" exhibition of etchings it did not know that 
a master of color was giving an object-lesson in 
interior decoration. 

Who can recall without a feeling of restful satis- 
faction the delightful reception-room of that later 
home in Paris, at 1 10 Rue du Bac ? So simple that, 
really, there was not a conspicuous feature about it, 
and yet every detail had been worked out with as 
much care as he bestowed on a painting. 

This feature of Whistler's art, this susceptibility 
to color and line in surroundings will be referred to 
again in the discussion of his exquisite color-sense. 

For the present it is sufficient to point out that he 
was something more than a painter of easel pictures ; 
that instinctively he was akin to those great masters 
who combined their efforts with those of the archi- 
tect in the endeavor to produce beautiful results. 

A sympathetic writer has said : 

" Although he was in no way a spendthrift, he would make 
every sort of sacrifice to his art. Had he been given more 
opportunity, there seems no reason to doubt that he would 
have made other rooms even more beautiful than the famous 
' Peacock' dining-room. But, frankly, the public did not 
care for his work enough to buy much of it from him at any- 
thing like a fair price ; so that he was obliged to limit him- 
self to comparatively small surfaces, easel pictures, over 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

which collectors will soon begin to wrangle, we dare say, 
now that the clever hand which created them can work no 
more, and the big, kind heart which gave this man the cour- 
age to fight through fifty years against ' la betise hutnaine is 
cold and still." 1 

In showing his work to visitors he exercised all 
the reserve and discretion of the Japanese, who 
places before his guests but one kakemona during 
that most formal and elaborate of social festivities, 
the "Tea Ceremony," or who, under pressure of re- 
peated requests, takes from its little box and unfolds 
from its many silken wrappings one, just one, of his 
precious bits of porcelain. No more on the same 
day, lest the surfeited guests fail in appreciation. 

If in his studio, Whistler would first turn to the 
wall every picture and arrange the few pieces of fur- 
niture so that nothing should attract the vagrant eye, 
then he would place the one picture he wished seen 
on the easel in the best of light, without, however, 
letting it be seen until frame and glass were care- 
fully wiped, when, stepping back on a line with his 
visitor, he, too, would enjoy his work as if he saw it 
for the first time. He would never exhibit anything 
he was tired of, and he never tired of anything he 
exhibited. This appreciation of his own work, his 
enthusiasm over what he had done, was often mis- 
understood by people accustomed to the false mod- 
esty of artists who stand dumb while others vainly 

1 Harper s Weekly, August I, 1903. 


strive to see in their work the beauties which they 
of all people can best make known. 

If time permitted he might bring forth two, or 
even three, pictures, but rarely more, and always 
each by itself. If some visitor, presuming on his 
good nature, — and he was indulgent in the extreme 
to those he liked, — insisted on placing the pictures 
side by side for comparison, as is the custom in 
shops, he was as uneasy and unhappy as would be 
a poet if several persons insisted on reading aloud 
before him several of his poems at the same time, — 
for what is a picture but a poem, mute to the ear 
but clarion-voiced to the eye ? 

In public exhibitions of his works he had the same 
sense of the eternal fitness of things. 

First of all, the room must be properly lighted, 
and Whistler's paintings require a soft light. In his 
studio the skylight was well arranged with shades, 
so he could keep the light soft and constant ; and 
frequently he would draw the shades so as to make 
the room quite dark, and then view portrait and 
sitter as they loomed up in shadow. 

"Some students planned to call on him one New Year's 
morning. A friendly student, not at all sure that Whistler 
would like it, gave him a little tip as to the surprise party. 

" 'Tell them that I never receive callers,' he exclaimed, 
excitedly. The student explained that he wasn't supposed 
to know anything about it. 

" ' Are you sure they mean well ?' he inquired, anxiously. 
And on being reassured, ' Well, tell them I never receive 
visitors in the morning.' 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

" The students called in the afternoon, and found awaiting 
them a most genial and delightful host. He told stories and 
showed fhem his palettes to prove that he practised what he 
preached, and pictures and sketches were exhibited to them 
never seen by the public, among the surprising ones being 
some allegorical studies. He served them with champagne 
and fruits and cakes, and was most solicitous as to their en- 
joyment. One of them asked him how he arranged his sub- 
jects so as to produce the low tone noted in his pictures. 
He posed a visitor, pulled over the shades so as to shut out 
all light, save from one window, and there before them was 
a living Whistler ' arrangement' ready to recede behind a 
frame, as he says all portraits should do. 

It is a pity to ever subject his pictures to the try- 
ing light of the usual gallery, and it is a still greater 
pity to exhibit them at night in competition with 
foot-lights and foyer. His work should not be made 
the attraction for either a " five-o'clock tea" or a 
dress rehearsal. People who will not go during the 
day are not worth inviting. 

The fact that people are content to view the best 
paintings of all time by artificial light, and even 
profess to find a " softness" and "charm" lacking by 
day, is but additional evidence of that want of sus- 
ceptibility and fine feeling which characterizes the 
modern world, artists and laymen alike. For no 
picture that was painted by daylight should be seen 
at night, if all its beauties are to be felt. 

A room for the exhibition of his pictures should 
be of precisely the right tone, and this is a matter 
of no little difficulty. 



When president of the Society of British Artists, 
in 1886, his arrangement of the rooms was criticised 
as being "tentative," because he had left the bat- 
tens on the walls ; whereupon he wrote that in the 
engineering of the light and the treatment of the 
walls and the arrangement of the draperies every- 
thing was intentional ; that the battens were meant 
to remain, " not only for their use, but as bringing 
parallel lines into play that subdivide charmingly the 
lower portions of the walls and add to their light 
appearance ; that the whole combination is com- 

There is a hint to all managers of exhibitions. 

To summarize the foregoing suggestions : 

The tone of the walls should be such as to keep 
them in the background. 

The monotonous blankness of the walls may be 
broken by unobtrusive lines, not arbitrarily for effect, 
but justifiably for use and effect. 

Only such draperies should be used as are abso- 
lutely necessary to reduce vacancies or to soften 
harsh lines, and these should lose themselves in the 
tone of the room. 

Floor should be low in tone, the rich, dark brown 
of old oak keeping its place under foot best of 

If the room is large and a few chairs and benches 
are admitted, they should be of wood, plain and for 
service alone, as becomes a room that is arranged 
but for one purpose, — namely, the exhibition of cer- 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

tain pictures, — and they should be painted or stained 
in tone to correspond with the room. 

The light should be under absolute control, and 
kept quite soft, diffused, and constant throughout the 

The room should be closed at night, or at least 
the people fully warned by notices in catalogue and 
elsewhere that if they have any real desire to see 
and understand the pictures they will come during 
the day. 

The pictures should be well spaced, so that each 
may, to a certain degree, be studied by itself, for 
each is as complete a work as a piece of music. 

In short, in an exhibition of pictures, or of any- 
thing else, everything should be subordinated to the 
things exhibited ; nothing should be permitted to 
obtrude upon the attention to their disadvantage ; 
the work of the decorator and furnisher on such an 
occasion is perfect when it is unnoticed. 

For black-and-whites, experiments in color may 
be made, but for paintings which are compositions 
in color the background should be neutral, — silent 
like the background of music. 

As every one knows, green and red, side by side, 
accentuate and help each other ; therefore, pictures 
in which the prevailing tone is green are helped by 
a red or crimson background, while pictures in which 
the prevailing tone is red are helped by a green back- 

The foregoing is elementary and a matter of 
common observation, and the walls of art galleries 



and exhibitions are frequently covered with either a 
shade of green or a shade of crimson ; but in placing 
pictures no discrimination is exercised, — landscapes 
and marines in which green predominates are placed 
side by side with portraits and interiors in which red 
frequently predominates on the same green or red 
background, to the advantage of one set of pictures 
and the detriment of the other. 

So far as color-effect is concerned, the pictures 
themselves go very well side by side, the red of 
the life pieces helping the green of the nature 
pieces, and vice versa ; but if the background is 
permitted to assert itself, if the pictures are spaced 
on the wall, any background which accentuates the 
one class does so at the expense of the other. 

If pictures in which the prevailing tone is green 
are to be placed on the same wall with pictures in 
which red predominates, the background should be 
neither red nor green, but, theoretically, a gray, 
which is neutral and helps all colors in contrast ; 
practically, however, a grayish hue of brown, be- 
cause pure gray requires a greater expanse of wall 
between each picture than the exigencies of an 
exhibition or of a typical picture gallery permit, 
while the element of brown permits the wall to 
assert itself a little more positively between the 
frames, and, at the same time, the quality of neu- 
trality is almost as well preserved. 

The stronger the tone of the background the 
nearer together pictures may be placed ; the weaker 
and more neutral the background the wider the 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

spacing must be, — a pure gray requiring the widest 
spacing of all backgrounds, a deep crimson the 
narrowest. In other words, it requires a wide ex- 
panse of gray to support a little color, while a very 
little crimson will carry a very large expanse of 
color in the way of gilt frames and strong landscapes 
and marines. 

Wide frames, whether of gold or dark wood, 
enable green walls to carry green pictures and red 
walls to carry red pictures without the pictures suf- 
fering so much ; the frames intervene, and the imme- 
diate contrast is between canvas and frame instead 
of canvas and wall. But the secondary contrast is 
there and is felt precisely in proportion to the extent 
of the spacing between the pictures, and the pict- 
ures suffer accordingly. 




The Ruskin Suit — His Attitude towards the World 
and towards Art — "The Gentle Art of Making 
Enemies" — Critics and Criticism. 

In 1877 Ruskin, passing through the Grosvenor 
Gallery, caught sight of something the like of which 
he had never seen in the world of art. It was the 
"Nocturne, Black and Gold. The Falling Rocket," 
a faithful transcript of the painter's impression of a 
night-scene in Cremorne Gardens. But Ruskin cared 
less for the subtle glories of night than for the more 
garish beauties of the day, and still less for the sights 
and sounds of Cremorne Gardens, and neither he nor 
any one else in either modern or ancient world knew 
anything at all about the painting of night as Whist- 
ler painted it. It is not surprising, therefore, that he 
was startled, for the picture seemed to violate all 
those canons of art which he had laid down in Eng- 
lish the beauty of which more than condones his 
every error, and on the impulse of the moment he 
wrote in a number of Fors Clavigera : 

"For Mr. Whistler's own sake, no less than for 
the protection of the purchaser, Sir Coutts Lindsay 
ought not to have admitted works into the gallery in 
which the ill-educated conceit of the artist so nearly 



T3'AD0X OHIJJA'4 3HT .UJ<>. • CT/IA WJAJU .a/.M 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

approached the aspect of wilful imposture. I have 
seen and heard much of cockney impudence before 
now, but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two 
hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the 
public's face." 

By way of extenuation, it must be borne in mind 
that this was written off-hand, at a time when Ruskin 
was saying so many extravagant things, though with 
them so many profoundly true things, that no one 
quite understood him, and many thought him not 
quite sound mentally. The habit of sweeping gen- 
eralizations, of extravagant appreciations and de- 
preciations had grown apace since the publication 
of the first volume of " Modern Painters," nearly 
forty years before, and he invariably yielded to the 
impression or the prejudice of the moment. 

If Ruskin, in estimating Whistler, had paused but 
a moment and recalled just a paragraph from the 
preface to the second edition of the first volume of 
" Modern Painters" he would have been more toler- 
ant, for he there said : 

' ' All that is highest in art, all that is creative and im- 
aginative, is formed and created by every great master for 
himself, and cannot be repeated or imitated by others. We 
judge of the excellence of a rising writer, not so much by 
the resemblance of his works to what has been done before 
as by their difference from it ; and while we advise him, in 
the first trials of strength, to set certain models before him, 
with respect to inferior points, — one for versification, another 



for arrangement, another for treatment, — we yet admit not 
his greatness until he has broken away from all his models 
and struck forth versification, arrangement, and treatment of 
his own." 

And was not Ruskin himself the life-long apolo- 
gist for a most original and extraordinary genius, — 
a man who to his last days was as little understood 
as Whistler? 

Here are some things that were said of Turner as 
late as 1842, when he was doing some of his best 
work : 

" The ' Dogano' (sic) and ' Campo Santo' have a glorious 
ensemble, and are produced by wonderful art, but they mean 
nothing. They are produced as if by throwing handfuls of 
white and blue and red at the canvas, letting what chanced 
to stick, stick, and then shadowing in some forms to make 
the appearance of a picture ; and yet there is a fine harmony 
in the highest range of color to please the sense of vision. 
We admire and we lament to see such genius so employed. 
But ' Farther on you may fare worse.' No. 182 is a snow- 
storm of most unintelligible character, — the snow-storm of a 
confused dream, with a steamboat ' making signals,' and (ap- 
parently, like the painter who was in it) ' going by the head' 
(lead ?). Neither by land nor water was such a scene ever 
witnessed. And of 338, 'Burial at Sea,' though there is a 
striking effect, still the whole is so idealized and removed 
from truth that, instead of the feeling it ought to effect, it 
only excites ridicule. And No. 353 caps all for absurdity, 
without even any of the redeeming qualities of the rest. It 
represents Bonaparte — facetiously described as the ' Exile 
and the rock-limpet' — standing on the sea-shore at St. Helena 
. . . the whole thing is so truly ludicrous," etc. 1 

1 Library Gazette, May 14, 1842, p. 33 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

Another writer says : 

1 ' This gentleman has on former occasions chosen to paint 
with cream, or chocolate, yolk of egg, or currant-jelly, — 
there he uses his whole array of kitchen-stuff. . . . We cannot 
fancy the state of eye which will permit any one cognizant of 
art to treat these rhapsodies as Lord Byron treated ' Christa- 
bel ;' neither can we believe in any future revolution which 
shall bring the world round to the opinion of the worshipper, 
if worshippers such frenzies still possess." 1 

In reply to these and similar criticisms Ruskin 
said : 2 

"There is nothing so high in art but that a scurrile jest 
can reach it ; and often the greater the work the easier it 
is to turn it into ridicule. To appreciate the science of 
Turner's color would require the study of a life, but to laugh 
at it requires little more than the knowledge that yolk of egg 
is yellow and spinach green, — a fund of critical information 
on which the remarks of most of our leading periodicals have 
been of late years exclusively based. We shall, however, 
in spite of the sulphur-and-treacle criticisms of our Scotch 
connoisseurs and the eggs and the spinach of our English 
ones, endeavor to test the works of this great colorist by a 
knowledge of nature somewhat more extensive than is to be 
gained by an acquaintance, however familiar, with the 
apothecary's shop or the dinner-table." 

There is Ruskin in arms on the other side, — it 
making all the difference in the world which ox is 

1 Athencemn, May 14, 1842, p. 433. 

2 See opening paragraph of Chapter II. of the first and 
second editions of the first volume of ' ' Modern Painters. ' ' 



What an interesting chapter in the history of 
appreciation it all makes. Here we have the critics 
fulminating against Turner in "egg and spinach" 
terms and Ruskin fulminating against the critics in 
"pot and kettle" terms. A few years later we have 
Ruskin fulminating against Whistler in the same old 
terms ; but Whistler greatly improved the language 
of vituperation by introducing humor, and answered 
with words that bit like acid and epigrams pointed 
like needles — the etcher in controversy. 

" Produced as if by throwing handfuls of white 
and blue and red at the canvas," said the critic of 
Turner. " Flinging a pot of paint in the public's 
face," said Ruskin of Whistler. Beyond this, criti- 
cism begins to be personal. 

And Whistler drew the line on the "pot and 
kettle" stage and brought suit for libel. 

The case was heard in November, 1878, before 
Baron Huddleston and a special jury. 

The cross-examination of Whistler by the at- 
torney-general, who appeared for the defendant, 
was one of the features of the case, and brought 
out many of the artist's views concerning art and 
art critics. 

It is said that during the trial one of Whistler's 
counsel was holding up the nocturne in controversy 
before the jury, when one of the counsel on the 
other side called out : 

"You are holding that upside down." 

"No, I'm not." 

" I tell you, you are." 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

" How do you know which is the top and which 
is the bottom?" 

"Oh, I don't know ; only when I saw it hanging 
in the Grosvenor Gallery it was the other side 

Whereupon — out of deference to precedent — the 
nocturne was reversed. 

When Whistler was asked whether the nocturne 
represented a view of Cremorne, he answered : 

"If it were called a view of Cremorne, it would 
certainly bring about nothing but disappointment 
on the part of the beholders. It is an artistic 

And again, when asked whether a certain nocturne 
in blue and silver was a "correct" representation of 
Battersea Bridge, he replied : 

"I did not intend it to be a 'correct' portrait of 
the bridge. It is only a moonlight scene, and the 
pier in the centre of the picture may not be like the 
piers at Battersea Bridge as you know them in broad 
daylight. As to what the picture represents, that 
depends upon who looks at it. To some it may 
represent all that is intended ; to others it may rep- 
resent nothing." 

"The prevailing color is blue?" 


"Are these figures on the top of the bridge in- 
tended for people?" 

"They are just what you like." 

"Is that a barge beneath?" 

"Yes. I am very much encouraged at your 


perceiving that My whole scheme was only to bring 
about a certain harmony of color." 

Mr. Ruskin did not appear, but others testified in 
his behalf. 

Edward Burne-Jones admitted the picture had 
fine color, but found absolutely no detail and com- 
position. It was " bewildering in form," and "one 
of the thousand failures to paint night," and "not 
worth two hundred guineas." 

All of which opinions have been reversed by time, 
— even to the value, which quintupled many years 

Mr. Frith — of whose art both Burne-Jones and 
Ruskin probably had opinions that could not be 
expressed in temperate language — presented his 
credentials as the author of the "Railway Station," 
"Derby Day," and the "Rakes Progress," and 
testified that Whistler's pictures were " not serious 
works of art." But, then, he confessed he had not 
been invited to exhibit at the Grosvenor Gallery, 
and, as every one knows, what is considered art in 
one exhibition may not be so considered in another. 

And Tom Taylor, of the Times, — well, for Tom 
Taylor's testimony and opinions one must go to the 
" Gentle Art." It is his one sure niche in the temple 
of fame. 

In addressing the jury, the attorney-general said 
" he did not know when so much amusement had 
been offered to the British public as by Mr. Whist- 
ler's pictures." 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

The verdict was for the plaintiff, and the damages 
assessed at one farthing ; which coin Whistler wore 
on his chain long afterwards. 

The costs assessed against Ruskin amounted to 
£3 86 12s. 4d., and were paid by public subscription, 
one hundred and twenty persons contributing. 

Concerning this suit, Ruskin said, "I am blamed 
by my prudent acquaintances for being too personal ; 
but, truly, I find vaguely objurgatory language gen- 
erally a mere form of what Plato calls 'shadow- 
fighting.' " And long after, when a friend asked 
him about the case, he said, "I am afraid of a libel 
action if I open my mouth ; and if I can't say what 
I like about a person, I prefer to say nothing at all." * 

Even Ruskin could not say what he liked about 
any one, though every one, including the victim, 
might like the manner of his saying it. Still, it 
will ever remain a matter of wonder how Whistler 
induced an English jury, who could not possibly 
understand him, to give him a nominal verdict and 
saddle the costs upon Ruskin, who was something 
of a popular idol. 

Whistler's lawyers must have been cleverer than 
those of the other side. The attorney-general prob- 
ably proved, as his speech indicates, a clumsy de- 
fender in a case involving nice questions of art. 

Be it said to the credit of Whistler's sagacity, 
he always employed the best lawyers available. He 

1 John Ruskin, by Spielmann, p. 34. 


once said, " Poor lawyers, like poor paintings, are 
dear at any price." 

While Whistler had practised the gentle art of 
making enemies from the beginning of his career, 
his suit against Ruskin was, so to speak, his first 
public appearance, and he threw his dart at a shining 

What his real feelings towards Ruskin were no 
man can say, — for towards the public and his critics 
he was one man, towards his art he was quite 

To the world he seemed the incarnation of vanity 
and conceit ; to the few whose privilege it was to see 
him at work he appeared, and was, the embodiment 
of sincerity and earnestness, of simplicity to the 
verge of diffidence. 

It is impossible to conceive two personalities so dif- 
ferent as Whistler at work and Whistler at play, and 
all his controversies were play to him, the amuse- 
ment of his hours of relaxation. 

He sued Ruskin, not because his status before art 
was in any wise affected, but because his status be- 
fore the public was assailed ; not because he cared 
the snap of his finger for any adverse opinion con- 
cerning his pictures, but because he felt that he had 
a certain position, pose one might say, to maintain, 
and because it amused him to sue one who was con- 
sidered so infallible ; and he, no doubt, felt reason- 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

ably sure he would be more than recompensed by 
the solemn testimony of opposing witnesses. 

Whistler has been so often charged with being a 
poser that in the eyes of the world he really must 
have seemed so. 

He was a poser in the sense already indicated, 
— namely, he was one man before the public and 
another at work. In this sense every man clever 
enough to forget himself at times is something of a 
poser, for only the stupid who can talk nothing but 
"shop," wherever they are, are the same day in and 
day out. 

Most men are able to leave their work behind 
and adopt a role more or less artificial in social in- 
tercourse. The brilliant few who make society pos- 
sess this faculty in an eminent degree. 

The objection that social England has against the 
shopkeeper is, no doubt, based upon many sad ex- 
periences that the shopkeeper brings his shop with 
him to dinner, and will not, or cannot, pose to the 
extent of forgetting his material concerns in the 
presence of the frivolous. 

The preacher, the politician, the lawyer, the sol- 
dier may introduce a little "shop" in general con- 
versation, for these occupations are supposed to have 
a more general interest ; but the butcher, the baker, 
and the candlestick-maker cannot. But preacher, 
politician, lawyer, and soldier make the better 
guests if they pose a little and forget, for the time 
being, their occupations. 



Convictions must be introduced sparingly in social 
intercourse ; a very few go a great way. 

Why not adopt and duly post some such salutary 
rule as this? In social intercourse the utterance of 
one's profound convictions shall bear the same ratio 
to one's total utterances on any given occasion that 
the speaker bears to the number present and partici- 
pating in the conversation. That is to say, if the 
conversation is between two alone, half that either 
says may be his convictions, the other half a polite, 
though futile, endeavor to understand the other's 
convictions. If at a table of twelve, about a twelfth 
of one's real thoughts are permissible, and all that, 
in justice to others, should be attempted. 

But, then, conversation is a lost art. An Athenian 
could talk better about everything than a modern 
can talk about anything. Cast a subject, a thought, 
so much as a suggestion, into a knot of Greeks, and 
in a trice, like dogs over a bone, they would be 
wrestling with it, and the less they knew about it the 
brighter the discussion. 

Knowledge is the last refuge of the stupid. Facts 
are the sinkers of talk. Ideas are the flash-lights of 
the imagination ; and conversation depends not upon 
knowledge but upon ideas. One who knows noth- 
ing of a subject may have more ideas concerning it 
than one who knows all about Women are fre- 
quently better conversers than men, because less 
hampered by facts. 

Knowledge is a heavy weight for conversation to 
carry. But of all the bores who find their way to 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

the dinner-table the specialist in knowledge is the 
most hopeless. The man who knows everything about 
something is at the stupid end ; the man who knows 
something about everything at the brilliant, with a 
place at his right hand for the woman who knows 
nothing about anything. 

Whistler was of the choice few who would never 
speak seriously of his serious pursuits in general 
conversation. At those very moments when he 
seemed to be saying most about art and artists he 
was in reality saying least of what he really thought. 
When he talked most of himself he said nothing 
that he really felt. It was almost impossible to draw 
from him a serious opinion concerning a picture or 
a painter. Though he might rail by the hour against 
this man or that, if the mood seized him, it all meant 

In his studio, when at work, opinions and apprecia- 
tions worth remembering would drop from his lips ; 
but he rarely committed himself; not because his 
convictions were not clear, but because he seldom 
thought it worth while. 

Once he was dining with quite a distinguished 
company. The conversation — possibly as tribute to 
the presence of so noted an artist — turned upon art, 
and finally upon a notorious picture, called " Nana," 
of a naked woman on a couch, that was quite a sen- 
sation in London. It has been seen on this side. 

Loud were the expressions of approval. Whistler 
remained silent. 



' ' What do you think of « Nana, ' Mr. Whistler ?' ' asked 
the distinguished lady at his right. 

" Is it not wonderful ? — so life-like," exclaimed the distin- 
guished lady at his left. 

But Whistler, apparently spellbound by the bird before 
him, was silent. 

" But, Mr. Whistler, you have not told us what you think 
about ' Nana, ' ' ' said the distinguished lady opposite. 

At bay at last, he said : 

' ' Really, madam, you know, it is quite — presumptious — 
quite, for one who — who is simply, as one might say, a 
painter, and therefore — you know — not entitled to opinions 
— to express himself in the presence of so — so many distin- 
guished connoisseurs ; but — since you demand my opinion — 
as a highwayman would a purse — I yield to superior strength 
and say — with all deference — that ' Nana' is — trash." 

"Oh !" 

"Oh, Mr. Whistler." 

" But have you seen it ?" 


' * Then, how can you say it is trash ?' ' 

" It must be — it — is so — popular." 

" Will you go to see it ?" 

" That is not necessary." 

" But I want you to go with me to-morrow to see ' Nana.' " 
And the charming lady on his right insisted so imperiously 
that he should go with her and several of the company who 
wished to be of the party, that he yielded, saying, however : 

" On one condition." 

"What is it?" 

« ' That you will go with me afterward, to the National Gal- 
lery and see some pictures I am sure you have never seen. ' ' 

• ' Some new ones ?' ' 

" To you — yes." 

It was agreed ; and the following day Whistler with several 
of the party paid each a shilling to see " Nana" stretched at 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

ease under a strong light at the far end of a dark room. It 
might have been a painting or ' ' Nana' ' herself, the realism 
was so gross. 

All save Whistler were in raptures over the wondrous 
thing. He was silent. 

Then they went to the National Gallery, and he took them 
before one great portrait after another. 

" But we have seen these before," chorused the voices. 

" Impossible !" exclaimed Whistler. 

" Oh, yes, many times," sang the voices. 

' ' But you do not like them ; you detest them. ' ' 

" Oh, no ! no ! no !" 

"But they are not at all like 'Nana' ; they haven't 
'Nana's* wonderful flesh-tones, 'Nana's' beautiful skin; 
are not so life-like as ' Nana,' and beside ' Nana' you must 
consider them as poor, wretched daubs. ' ' 

And so he took them from one masterpiece to another, 
repeating before each one their raptures over ' ' Nana' ' until 
they were silent. Then he said : 

" I have shown you some pictures that are considered 
good by those whose opinions are precious, and you have 
not found in one a single characteristic that you admired in 
'Nana,' and you yourselves would not admit her to this 
glorious company ; therefore, again I say, ' Nana' is — 

In the sense, therefore, that he presented a care- 
less, trivial, or cynical side to the public and a 
serious side to his art, Whistler was a poser, and 
during his idle hours he had the habit of amusing 
himself at the expense of any one who crossed his 
path. And why not? Did not the world try so 
hard to amuse itself at his expense? Were his 
feelings spared ? Was aught of ridicule or insult 
that human ingenuity could devise withheld ? 



But his opponents were so clumsy that, save as he 
himself preserved their crude repartees, only his epi- 
grammatic utterances are remembered ; and therefore 
he has all the blame for the controversies, while the 
truth is that, considering the flood of opprobrium 
poured out upon him in print and in speech, he said 
very little, took but occasional notice of his assailants. 
All he said fills but a portion of a small book, — the 
" Gentle Art," — while his opponents have the bal- 
ance ; and if all adverse personal comments of a des- 
picable nature were gathered together from both 
sides of the Atlantic, they would make up many 
closely-printed volumes. 

For a man who could write so well, Whistler ex- 
ercised great restraint in writing so little, but — that 
little ! 

And yet it is a pity, from one point of view, that 
he wrote at all ; his art did not need it, and in the 
way of general estimation and recognition suffers 
not a little on account of it. 

For twenty-odd years the public has been amused, 
startled, and irritated by the letters and utterances 
which make up "The Gentle Art of Making Ene- 
mies," and it will be many a long day before they 
are so far forgotten that Whistler's art will be judged 
wholly upon its merits. 

If the "Gentle Art" did not exist as it does in its 
harmony in brown, English literature would lack a 
volume which is in itself a bit of art and unique of 
its kind. There is nothing at all like it, and only 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

Whistler could have done it The book is a perfect 
expression of one side of his many-sided and extra- 
ordinary personality, and as such is therefore a work 
of art, and, at the same time, material which cannot 
be spared if the man is to be thoroughly understood ; 
but it reveals the side which is least worth under- 
standing, it accentuates traits which are inconsequen- 
tial, and it gives the public an entirely erroneous 
impression, because the public find it easy to buy 
and read the book, but difficult to so much as see 
the pictures, and quite impossible to understand them 
when they do see them. 

In Whistler's life the writing of the few lines and 
the putting together of the matter contained in the 
" Gentle Art" occupied an almost infinitesimal frac- 
tion of his leisure hours, whereas for fifty years he 
painted, etched, and lithographed industriously ; yet, 
so far as the public of England and America is con- 
cerned, his controversies overshadow his art ; while 
to the French, who happily could not read the book, 
he is known only as an artist 

Criticism of art afforded Whistler a world of 
amusement, and the art critic was his especial aver- 

"That writers should destroy writings to the 
benefit of writing" seemed to him just, but that 
writers should criticise painting seemed to him 
altogether illogical. 

And he quotes the critic of the Times, who said 
of Velasquez's "Las Menimas" that it was "slovenly 



in execution, poor in color, — being little but a com- 
bination of neutral grays and ugly in its forms." 

And he shows how the same great critic praised a 
Turner that turned out to be no Turner. When 
this particular critic died, a few years ago, Whistler 
sorrowfully said, " I have hardly a warm personal 
enemy left." 

And he showed how one said that Daubigny had 
neither drawing nor color, and another that the works 
of Corot to the first impression of an Englishman 
"are the sketches of an amateur," and another that 
everything Courbet touches "becomes unpleasant." 

All these by the most eminent critics in the land, 
— men whose say-so in days gone by made and un- 
made, for the time being, the reputations of artists. 

And he grouped together a number of Ruskin's 
dogmatic utterances, where in his enthusiasm for 
certain men he condemned others who were infi- 
nitely superior, — as, for instance, where he praises 
without limitations the work of the forgotten Prout, 
and says that Rembrandt's colors are wrong from 
beginning to end, and that "Vulgarity, dulness, 
or impiety will indeed always express themselves 
through art in brown and gray, as in Rembrandt;" 
and again where he places Rubens above Titian and 
Raphael, and compares an unknown Mulready with 
Albert Durer, to the disadvantage of the latter. 

These things it pleased Whistler to do, and he has 
done them with rare piquancy in the " Gentle Art." 

If what is contained therein savors in aught of 
malice, let it be remembered that public, critics, 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

painters were snapping at his heels during the years 
that he was doing the very work which public, critics, 
and painters now worship, and a lesser man would 
have yielded to the storm of adverse opinion and 

With the exception of a few friends and admirers, 
he was absolutely without support during the period 
when an artist most needs encouragement. 

It is everlastingly to his credit that neither the 
ridicule of others — " the voice of the nation" — nor 
his own necessities, and they pressed heavily at 
times, caused him to swerve a hair's breadth from 
what he believed to be worth doing in art. 

Nearly every great artist of whom we have any 
record has at one time or another in his career 
yielded to the temptation — frequently under press- 
ure of dire necessity — to do something that would 
sell. No such reproach can be laid at Whistler's 

The galled critics complained that he did not 
treat them fairly, — that he selected small excerpts 
from voluminous essays ; whereas, if he had re- 
printed the essays entire, language apparently plain 
would have been reversed in meaning. For instance, 
he of the Times, who had written of Velasquez, 
complained that the quotation gave " exactly the 
opposite impression to that which the article, taken 
as a whole, conveys." It must have been an extraor- 
dinary article to transform what was quoted into 
praise ; but Whistler, in reply, said : 



"Why squabble over your little article? You did print 
what I quote, you know, Tom ; and it is surely unimportant 
what more you may have written of the Master. That you 
should have written anything at all is your crime." 

Ruskin never complained of anything Whistler 
wrote. The one utterance which caused the suit 
for libel was probably the first and last that passed 
his lips. The eloquent old man never did pay 
very much attention to what others thought of him ; 
he was too busy with his own dreams and fancies. 

He did write what Whistler quoted about Rem- 
brandt, but the whole passage is a lament over the 
lack of appreciation of color, and is as follows : 

" For instance : our reprobation of bright color is, I think, 
for the most part, mere affectation, and must soon be done 
away with. Vulgarity, dulness, or impiety will indeed always 
express themselves through art in brown and gray, as in 
Rembrandt, Caravaggio, and Salvator ; but we are not wholly 
vulgar, dull, or impious, nor, as moderns, are we necessarily 
obliged to continue so in any wise. Our greatest men, 
whether sad or gay, still delight, like the great men of all 
ages, in brilliant hues. The coloring of Scott and Byron is 
full and pure ; that of Keats and Tennyson rich even to 
excess. Our practical failures in coloring are merely the 
necessary consequences of our prolonged want of practice 
during the period of Renaissance affectation and ignorance ; 
and the only durable difference between old and modern 
coloring is the acceptance of certain hues by the modern, 
which please him by expressing that melancholy peculiar to 
his more reflective or sentimental character and the greater 
variety of them necessary to express his greater science." 1 

1 Modern Painters, vol. hi., chap, xvii., paragraph 18. 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

Again, on the subject of color, he says : 

" We find the greatest artists mainly divided into two 
groups, — those who paint principally with respect to local 
color, headed by Paul Veronese, Titian, and Turner, and those 
who paint principally with reference to light and shade irre- 
spective of color, headed by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, 
and Raphael. The noblest members of each of these classes 
introduce the element proper to the other class, in a subor- 
dinate way. Paul Veronese introduces a subordinate light 
and shade, and Leonardo introduces a subordinate local 
color. The main difference is, that with Leonardo, Rem- 
brandt, and Raphael vast masses of the picture are lost in 
comparatively colorless (dark, gray, or brown) shadow, — 
these painters beginning with the lights and going down to 
blackness ; but with Veronese, Titian, and Turner the whole 
picture is like the rose, — glowing with color in the shadows 
and rising into paler and more delicate hues, or masses of 
wfliiteness, in the lights, — they having begun with the shadows 
and gone up to whiteness." 

Ruskin said so much about art, and said it so dog- 
matically, that no one utterance gives an adequate 
conception of what he thought about any one man. 
Furthermore, while his language is crystal itself, his 
thoughts are often contradictory and confusing in 
the extreme. 

For instance, no man with any sense of color 
whatsoever would group Leonardo, Rembrandt, and 
Raphael together as men who painted " irrespective 
of color," — for no great Italian from the days of 
Giotto to those of Michael Angelo painted regardless 
of color ; on the contrary, color is the one conspic- 
uous, brilliant, and beautiful feature of their work, 



and the color-sense, as it existed in those days in all 
its exquisite refinement, is, generally speaking, abso- 
lutely wanting in ours. 

In all but color Rembrandt forgot more than most 
of the Italians ever knew ; but in the use of color — 
not imitatively, not after the manner of nature, but 
decoratively and arbitrarily — the Italians forgot more 
than Rembrandt ever knew ; and, so far as color is 
concerned, there is absolutely nothing in common 
between Rembrandt and Leonardo or Raphael, 
while there is much in common between the two 

It was not color, but light, that Ruskin appre- 
ciated, as is shown by a hundred passages, but by 
none more clearly than that quoted wherein he says 
of the three painters last named, — and the italics are 
his, — " these painters beginning with lights and 
going down to blackness ; but with Veronese, Titian, 
and Turner the whole picture is like the rose, — 
glowing with color in the shadows and rising into 
paler and more delicate hues, or masses of white- 
ness, in the lights, — they having begun with the 
shadows and gone up to whiteness." 

When he held his exhibition in London, in 1 892, 
of " Nocturnes, Marines, and Chevalet Pieces," — a 
"small collection kindly lent their owners," — he 
once more printed in his dainty brown-paper-cov- 
ered catalogue, beneath each picture, the early com- 
ments of press, critics, and people, and called it all 
"The Voice of a People." 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

And what a collection of bizarre opinions it is, to 
be sure, from the serious Times to the lightsome 
Merrie England, which said : 

" He paints in soot colors and mud colors, but, far 
from enjoying the primary hues, has little or no per- 
ception of secondary or tertiary color." 

Which goes to show that the budding science of 
chromatics is not without effect on vocabularies. 

Here we have the "kitchen stuff" criticism of 
Turner in 1842 paraphrased word for word in the 
mud and soot criticism of Whistler precisely fifty 
years later. 

Is the jargon of criticism at once limited and 
exhausted? Are we to linger forever about the 
cook-stove in the depreciation of art ? With the in- 
troduction of the steel range of mammoth propor- 
tions can we not find new terms of opprobrium? 
Besides, there are the gas and gasoline stoves of ex- 
plosive habit, which ought to be suggestive of nov- 
elty in vituperation. But, alas, the critic is prone 
to repeat himself, and the language of the fathers is 
visited upon the children unto the third and fourth 
generations of them that hate. 

And press, critics, and artists are convicted, once 
more, of incompetency. But what does it matter, 
save as a warning that will not be heeded ? Are we 
any wiser in our generation ? Were Whistler to 
appear to-day, as he did forty-odd years ago, would 
he be received with the praise his works command 
now ? Hardly. 

« 161 


Many of his followers were quite as absurd in 
their misplaced admiration as the maligned public in 
its denunciation, and no one knew it better than he. 
He came upon two of them once as they were wax- 
ing eloquent before a sketch that had somehow 
escaped his studio, — possibly overlooked and left 
behind in some of his movings. He listened a 
moment to their raptures, fitted his monocle to his 
eye, took a look at this '• masterpiece," and said : 

"God bless me, I wonder where that came from. 
Not worth the canvas it's painted on." 

And he turned away. 

We who have been taught to see, not wholly but 
in part, may laugh at our betters who, when he first 
appeared, could see nothing at all ; but our virtue is 

His attitude towards critics is summed up in the 
short but pointed article written in December, 1878, 
shortly after the Ruskin suit, and called "Art and 
Art Critics." 

"Shall the painter, then (I foresee the question), decide 
upon painting ? Shall he be the critic and sole authority ? 
Aggressive as is this supposition, I fear that, in the length of 
time, his assertion alone has established what even the gen- 
tlemen of the quill accept as the canons of art and recognize 
as the masterpieces of work." 

All of which is undeniably true. The painter 
must in the end judge of painting, and the sculptor 
judge of sculpture. But there are two distinct sides 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

to a work of art, — to every work, for that matter : 
there is the relation between the worker and his 
work, and the relation between the completed work 
and the public, — the work being the intermediary 
between artist and people, his means of communi- 
cation, his* mode and manner of speech. 

There is, therefore, the process of creation and 
the process of appreciation, of utterance and of 

The painting of a picture is one thing, its appre- 
ciation by the public is quite another. 

A man need not be a dramatist to watch the 
effect of a drama upon the audience ; a man need 
not own a vineyard to know good wine. 

The critic stands, or, rather, should stand, between 
the public and the work he criticises, whether it be 
poem, painting, statue, or drama ; the mistake he 
commonly makes is in forcing himself between the 
worker and his work, and in trying to teach him 
something only another and better worker in the 
same art is competent to do. 

Critics make most of their blunders in judging 
works according to preconceived notions as to how 
they should be done, — in condemning, for instance, 
a picture because not painted after prevailing modes 
and methods, because it is a departure, whereas 
with these considerations the lay-critic has nothing 
to do ; they fall entirely within the province of the 
painter-critic, the one man who is competent, in the 
long run, to pass upon the methods employed. 

Every work is an appeal to the public, — its com- 


pletion and exhibition make it such ; therefore, 
every work challenges the critical faculties, great or 
small, of those who see it. It is inevitable that some 
more interested should spring up to interpret, rightly 
or wrongly, the work to the public ; the artist sel- 
dom takes the trouble, — in fact, has neither the time 
nor the temperament ; his message is complete in 
the picture, others must understand it as best they 

The playwright cannot address the audience save 
through the play, the poet speaks only through his 
poetiy, the painter through his pictures, the sculptor 
through the forms of his creation. Seldom is an 
artist gifted with more than one tongue, and that 
tongue is his art. How, then, can artists interpret 
the work of artists ? How can the painter, who is 
dumb save with his brush, or the sculptor, who is 
mute save with his clay and chisel, tell the world 
anything about the work of others ? 

It is the business of those who can speak and 
write to tell the people, not how the work was created, 
unless they were present, but how it impressed them 
as a finished thing. That is the province of legitimate 

Every man who has done his best to understand, 
though at the risk of betraying his ignorance, has 
the right to say how he likes what he sees or hears 
or tastes. The opinions of some are worth more 
than those of others ; and these opinions, with the 
reasons therefor, we are delighted to hear. That is 
about all there is to sound criticism ; and in that sense 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

comment and those whose profession is to comment 
are inevitable, — until the aesthetic millenium, when 
critics cease from troubling and the artists are at rest 

Ruskin, unfortunately, attempted the double duty 
of telling painters how to paint and the public what 
to like. With all his industry and considerable 
talent for drawing, he was not competent to tell 
painters how to paint, — though much that he said is 
accepted as sound, — and his judgments of the rela- 
tive merits of painters and pictures were biassed by 
his own convictions regarding the way the work 
should be done. 

His limitations were due to his strong preferences 
and violent prejudices. His devotion to Turner — a 
great painter — was one limitation ; lack of appre- 
ciation of Rembrandt was another ; failure to esti- 
mate Velasquez at his real worth was another ; and 
a lot of enthusiasms for men who are now forgotten 
are so many additional evidences of lack of judicial 
temper in Ruskin. But all these things are as noth- 
ings in comparison with the rich store of things said 
in English so strong, so simple, and yet so beautiful 
that it fairly intoxicates and rouses something akin 
to a religious enthusiasm. 

A word concerning the "Voice of a People," as 
Whistler called his little collection of criticisms. 
What is it ? 

In literature the " Vqice of a People" makes 
itself heard at the bookseller's counter and over 
the desk of the circulating library, — and that, too, 



regardless of critics who praise this book and con- 
demn that. Sometimes, before the Critic has spoken, 
the " Voice" is heard, and the presses groan with the 
burden of their task ; or, more often, after the Critic 
has had his say, the " Voice," disregarding labored 
precepts, calls loudly for what it is told it should not 
have ; and so in literature the "Voice" makes itself 
heard loud and clear and natural, and there is no 
mistaking it. 

Likewise in the drama the insistent "Voice" de- 
mands trash or otherwise, quite regardless of the 
protest of the Critic. The run of a play is not de- 
termined by the criticisms. The opinion of the 
Critic is often foreseen and defied ; but neither 
writer, manager, nor actor can foretell the verdict 
of the "Voice," — favorable often when least ex- 
pected ; adverse often when least deserved. 

But in art the "Voice" — stentorian in literature 
and the drama — sinks to a whisper so diffident that 
it cannot be heard amidst the trumpetings of the 

The Critics — those whose business it was to write 
and talk about art — ridiculed Whistler, not the 
"Voice." Left wholly to itself, it is quite likely the 
"Voice" would have found much that it liked in the 
beautiful combinations of tones and colors, for there 
is nothing inherently repulsive in Whistler's work, as 
in much other that Critics command the "Voice" 
to praise ; on the contrary, his paintings are exceed- 
ingly restful to the eye, and exceedingly attractive 
as schemes of color if nothing else. The " Voice," 

1 66 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

left to itself, would say, " I do not understand them, 
but I like them, — just as I like music, without know- 
ing much about it." 

But the " Voice" — independent enough in litera- 
ture, the drama, and even in music — dares not lisp 
in art until the Critic speaks. Then the " Voice" 
praises what he praises, condemns what he con- 
demns, until the secret purchases and growing de- 
mand for the outcast confound both Critic and 
echoing "Voice." Then the ''Voice" turns — as it 
has in the case of Whistler — and rends the Critics, 
unless those agile gentlemen change sides and praise 
what they formerly condemned. 

Too bad that Whistler attributed the "Voice" of 
the Critic to that long-suffering animal — the Public, 
which, if often wrong, is always honest, and, in all 
but art — vociferous. 

Concerning his habit of persistently impaling the 
critics, a writer says : * 

" We wish that the catalogue did not, for the tenth time, 
contain quotations from all the dull things which bewildered 
criticism has said about him. Mr. Whistler is a wit, and 
should recollect that the same old joke must not be told too 
often to the same old audience." 

But where is the joke? In the criticisms or in 
their repetition ? If the criticisms were serious, then 
repetition is doubly serious. 

1 Saturday Review, March 26, 1892, p. 357. 


Nor is it "the same old audience," but each year, 
each hour, a new audience. Of all the English- 
speaking people not one in a million have ever 
heard the joke ; and if joke there be, it is surely 
a gracious act to make it known. 

The far-seeing publisher deftly detaches the favor- 
able comment from uncongenial context and prints 
it boldly on the fly-leaf of the volume. Why should 
not author or painter print his page of deprecia- 
tions that, as Whistler says, " history maybe cleanly 
written" ? And if preserved and printed once, why 
not for all time ? 

The record of a people is not complete unless 
their likes and dislikes be known. What would we 
not give for the adverse criticisms of Shakespeare? 
And there must have been many besides poor 
Greene's. What would we not give for some of the 
off-hand comments of his fellow-actors and his fel- 
low-managers ? 

The world conspires to deceive the world. The 
literature of adulation is carefully conserved until 
mortals, denuded of their frailties, become gods. 

In the course of his career Whistler met with 
many bizarre appreciations, but none more astonish- 
ing than this : l 

' ' To understand Mr. Whistler you must understand his 
body. I do not mean that Mr. Whistler has suffered from 
bad health, — his health has always been excellent ; all great 

1 Moore, Modern Painting, p. 6. 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

artists have excellent health, but his constitution is more 
nervous than robust. He is even a strong man, but he is 
lacking in weight. Were he six inches taller and his bulk 
proportionally increased, his art would be different." 

The classification of the prize-ring into feather-, 
light-, middle-, and heavy-weights makes its appear- 
ance in art ; genius, like jockeys, must weigh-in and 
-out. By rights, therefore, Paganini should have 
played the bass-viol and Napoleon should have been 
a drummer-boy. The painter must measure his 
canvas by his belt, and bant the masterpiece into 
shape. The gymnasium is the true school of art, 
and the dumb-bell is mightier than the brush. 

"For if Whistler had been six inches taller and his bulk 
proportionally increased, . . . instead of having painted a 
dozen portraits, — every one, even the ' Mother' and ' Miss 
Alexander,' which I personally take to be the two best, 
a little febrile in its extreme beauty, whilst some, master- 
pieces though they be, are clearly touched with weakness 
and marked with hysteria, — Mr. Whistler would have painted 
a hundred portraits as strong, as vigorous, as decisive, and 
as easily accomplished as any by Velasquez or Hals. ' ' 

This is the sort of comment that follows but 
never precedes acquaintance. After knowing a 
painter, it is easy to discover all his physical charac- 
teristics and idiosyncrasies in his work, — so easy, in 
fact, that many critics prefer to pass on books, plays, 
and pictures on their merits without knowing any- 
thing about the authors, the actors, or painters ; for 
in the end a work must stand or fall by itself. 



From an examination of the " Hermes," can this 
critic give us the stature of Praxiteles? From the 
"Nike" in the Louvre can he describe the unknown 
master? What does the "Sistine Madonna" tell 
him of the weight of Raphael, or the " Lesson in 
Anatomy" of the " bulk" of Rembrandt? 

A man's physical condition may be — frequently 
is — reflected in his work. If he is an invalid, what 
he does is apt to show it, — though Herbert Spencer 
is a case to the contrary ; but his physique is another 
matter. Genius is not a matter of inches. The 
weight of the brain is not controlled by the size of 
the body; still more independent is the organization 
and development of the brain. 

If a man have strength and health — and these the 
critic concedes to Whistler — his work may be the 
work of a giant 

One of the greatest and strongest of Germany's 
living artists is almost a dwarf ; the most virile painter 
in America to-day is short and slight. 

The same critic, referring to the letters in the 
"Gentle Art," says, "If Mr. Whistler had the bull- 
like health of Michael Angelo, Rubens, Hals, the 
letters would never have been written." But, as a 
matter of fact, Angelo was "a man of more than 
usually nervous temperament." As any one at all 
familiar with his career, his many controversies, his 
voluminous letters, well knows, "his temperament 
exposed him to sudden outbursts of scorn and anger 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

which brought him now and then into violent col- 
lision with his neighbors." His habit of ridiculing 
and annoying his fellow-pupils invited the blow from 
Pietro Torrigiano which gave him his broken nose. 
He was a weakly child and suffered two illnesses in 
manhood, but by carefully refraining from all ex- 
cesses he regained and preserved his health. " His 
countenance always showed a good and wholesome 
color. Of stature he is as follows : height middling, 
broad in the shoulders ; the rest of the body some- 
what slender in proportion." 

The foregoing scarcely bears out the sweeping 
generalization that "the greatest painters, I mean 
the very greatest, — Michael Angelo, Velasquez, and 
Rubens, — were gifted by nature with as full a meas- 
ure of health as of genius. Their physical consti- 
tutions resembled more those of bulls than of 

As for Velasquez, who can speak authoritatively 
for him ? 

While the physical characteristics of geniuses are 
habitually exaggerated, and the weak, the nervous, 
the delicate are made well and strong and "like 
bulls" in the enthusiasm of appreciation or the exi- 
gencies of theory, it would not be difficult to point 
out in history, art, and literature innumerable in- 
stances of men whose achievements afford no indi- 
cations whatsoever of their bodily make up, — in 
fact, it is common experience that neither poet nor 
painter ever corresponds with preconceived notions, 



and to meet the one or the other is to court disen- 

If Whistler had been six inches taller he would 
not have been Angelo, or Rembrandt, or Velasquez, 
but — in all probability — a soldier. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 


Supreme as a Colorist — Color and Music — His 
Susceptibility to Color — Ruskin and Color — Art 
and Nature. 

Supreme as a colorist, Whistler achieved fame as 
an etcher long before the world acknowledged his 
greatness as a painter. Even now it is the fashion 
to exalt his etchings to the depreciation of his paint- 
ings, — to say that he was a great artist in the one 
medium but unsuccessful in the other. 

The following is a fair illustration of this sort of 
comment : 

"Cool-headed conservatism should clarify the halo which 
encircles Whistler's portraits. The periodic 'symphonies,' 
•harmonies,' and 'arrangements,' in gray and green, green 
and rose, purple and gold, or brown and black, have, or 
had, novelty to recommend them, — more novelty, however, 
than psychology. Apart from one or two, they are little 
beyond essays in subdued Japonisme with subtle dashes of 
Velasquez. The portrait of his mother alone shows adequate 
depth, for the overlauded Carlyle is merely a male replica of 
the single canvas wherein the artist seemed to lose — and to 
find — himself. It is not in portraiture, but in etching and 
lithography, that Whistler has disclosed the validity of his 
talent." 1 

1 The Critic, vol. xxxviii. p. 32, January, 1901 


To which may be added the following comments 
since his death from leading American papers : 

' ' Whistler in earlier life was a real etcher, easily the first 
of the nineteenth century. The number of his plates of the 
best quality is comparatively small. He soon lost his power 
or the incentive to execute it. His hand degenerated, his 
work became trivial and insincere. As a painter none of his 
pictures will ever explain to posterity the reputation, or the 
apparent reputation, that he enjoyed during his lifetime." 

' ' It is, however, as an etcher rather than as a painter that 
Whistler will be remembered." 

"Thus, setting aside the portraits of his mother, of 
Thomas Carlyle, Lady Campbell, and Miss Alexander, 
and the startling 'Nocturne in Blue and Silver,' and the 
' Arrangement in Black, ' it might be possible to count upon 
the fingers of one hand the finest examples of his brush." 

Many others of similar import might be gathered, 
but the foregoing suffice. In reading them it should 
not be forgotten that the etchings, which are now 
praised without reserve, passed through the same 
stages of depreciation through which the paintings 
are passing ; so that, guided by the parallel, it is 
reasonable to expect the complete acceptance of the 
latter as masterpieces in the near future. 

Broadly speaking, the order of acceptance has 
been : 

First. Etchings and lithographs. 

Second. Portraits. 

Third. Color harmonies, — such as many of his 
figure-pieces, marines, nocturnes, and pure color 
compositions generally, none of which is fully 
accepted, some of which are scarcely known, and 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

all of which are misunderstood, in spite of his many 
explicit words of explanation. 

Such has been the order of general acceptance 
of his work ; but the order of real merit is almost 
precisely reversed. 

Whistler stands supreme, — 

First as a colorist. 

Secondly as a painter of portraits. 

Thirdly as an etcher and lithographer. 

As an etcher comparisons are drawn between him 
and Rembrandt. 

As a painter of portraits comparisons are drawn 
between him and Velasquez. 

As a colorist he is beyond comparison save with 
the masters of the far East. 

In etching and lithography and the painting of 
portraits he, at most, simply did as well or better 
what others have done before ; but in the composi- 
tion of harmonies of color to please the eye, as 
harmonies of sound please the ear, he accomplished 
results which are unique. 

What he did with the needle is not so wholly and 
absolutely unlike all that had been done before as 
to render comparisons impossible ; whereas with the 
brush in his domain of color Whistler stands alone. 
His art was his own ; he painted like no other man 
dead or living. 

His etchings were so fine, so subtle, that the world 
had difficulty in comprehending them ; but it did 
learn to like them, and that, too, at a comparatively 
early date. But even now his pictures are fully 



understood by no one ; and yet they have had a pro- 
founder influence upon the art of to-day than those 
of any other master. 

He opened the door of the East to the painters 
of the West and showed them how they might paint 
after the manner of the best there is in the Oriental 
world, and not only retain, but accentuate their own 

The secret of Whistler's art, as of all great art, is 
that it was the absolutely true and unaffected expres- 
sion of his convictions and of his impressions of the 
life and world about him ; and his impressions and 
convictions in the domain of color, like those of 
Beethoven in the world of sound, were worth re- 

He is to color what Beethoven is to sound, and 
his distinguishing merit is that of all the men of his 
century or of many preceding centuries he was the 
only one to treat color as a composer of music treats 
sound, — as material for the arrangement of harmonies 
to please the eye as music pleases the ear. 

When Burne-Jones, in the Ruskin suit, was asked 
if he saw any art quality in "The Falling Rocket," 
he apologetically said, " I must speak the truth, you 
know," and then testified: "It has fine color and 
atmosphere," but of detail and composition "abso- 
lutely none." 

As if the shower of fire of a falling rocket against 
the blackness of night could have sharp detail and 
composition ; as if anything were possible beyond 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

"fine color and atmosphere ;" and color and atmos- 
phere are all Whistler intended. " My whole 
scheme," he himself testified, "was only to bring 
about a certain harmony of color," and, according 
to the only decently qualified witness for the other 
side, he succeeded. 

Even Frith, the painter of " Derby Day" and the 
"Rake's Progress," said, "There is a pretty color 
which pleases the eye, but there is nothing more." 

Why should there be anything more, if to please 
the eye were the painter's sole intention ? Is it not 
as legitimate to please the eye with compositions of 
color, otherwise meaningless, as it is to please the 
ear with compositions of sound ? 

Profoundly speaking, color has no other object 
than to please the eye. The story should be told, the 
moral pointed, in black and white. The use of color 
imitatively, or to accentuate the characterization, is 
as base as the use of sound imitatively. 

Color is to the eye precisely what sound is to the 
ear, and the highest use to which either can be put 
is the production of pure, not to say abstract, har- 
monies for the satisfaction of its respective sense. 

As long ago as 1868 Swinburne, in a pamphlet on 
the Royal Academy exhibition of that year, said : 

' ' No task is harder than this translation from color into 
speech, when the speech must be so hoarse and feeble, when 
the color is so subtle and sublime. Music and verse might 
strike some string accordant in sound to such painting, but a 
version such as this is a psalm of Tate's to a psalm of 



David's. In all of the main strings touched are certain 
varying chords of blue and white, not without interludes of 
the bright and tender tones of floral purple or red. They 
all have immediate beauty, they all give the delight of 
natural things ; they seem to have grown as a flower grows, 
not in any forcing house of ingenious and laborious cunning. 
This is, in my eyes, a special quality of Mr. Whistler's 
genius ; a freshness and fulness of the loveliest life of 
things, with a high, clear power upon them which seems to 
educe a picture as the sun does a blossom or a fruit." 

In language too plain for the slightest misunder- 
standing he has himself told the world precisely 
what he meant his pictures to be, but the world will 
not take him at his word. 

Nearly thirty years ago, when the people wondered 
at his calling his works " symphonies," "arrange- 
ments," "harmonies," and "nocturnes," he wrote : 

"The vast majority of English folk cannot and will not 
consider a picture apart from any story which it may be 
supposed to tell. 

"My picture of a ' Harmony in Gray and Gold' is an 
illustration of my meaning, — a snow-scene with a single 
black figure and a lighted tavern. I care nothing for the 
past, present, or future of the black figure, placed there be- 
cause the black was wanted at that spot. All that I know is 
that my combination of gray and gold is the basis of the 
picture. Now, this is precisely what my friends cannot 

' ' They say, ' Why not call it * ' Trotty Veck, ' ' and sell it for 
a round harmony of golden guineas ?' naively acknowledging 
that without baptism there is no . . . market !" l 

Gentle Art, p. 126. 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

And farther on he said : 

"As music is the poetry of sound, so is painting the 
poetry of sight, and the subject-matter has nothing to do 
with harmony of sound or color. 

" The great musicians knew this. Beethoven and the rest 
wrote music, — simply music ; symphony in this key, con- 
certo or sonata in that. 

"On F or G they constructed celestial harmonies, — as 
harmonies, — combinations evolved from the chorus of F or 
G and their minor correlatives. 

" This is pure music as distinguished from airs, — common- 
place and vulgar in themselves, but interesting from their 
associations, — as, for instance, ' Yankee Doodle, or ' Partant 
pour la Syrie.' 

" Art should be independent of all clap-trap, should stand 
alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without 
confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as de- 
votion, pity, love, patriotism, and the like. All these have 
no kind of concern with it ; and that is why I insist on calling 
my works ' arrangements' and ' harmonies. ' " * 

And concerning the portrait of his mother, which 
nearly every one admires for the subject while few 
pause to consider the color, he wrote : 

' ' Take the picture of my mother, exhibited at the Royal 
Academy as an ' Arrangement in Gray and Black.' Now, 
that is what it is. To me it is interesting as a picture of my 
mother ; but what can or ought the public to care about the 
identity of the portrait ?' ' 2 

Within these few lines are contained Whistler's 
whole philosophy of art, his convictions and his 

1 Gentle Art, pp. 127, 128. 2 Ibid., p. 128. 



intentions ; the words are so plain a child may read 
and comprehend their meaning, and yet people will 
not understand him. 

Whistler's art was purely sensuous, as the finest 
music is sensuous. He had no interest whatsoever 
in the many problems of life and death, in the story 
of any person or the traditions of any place. 

He had less interest in the associations connected 
with Old Battersea Bridge than the boatman lazily 
floating by ; but at certain hours and under certain 
conditions, at twilight or at dusk, or in the fog, it 
made a long, tremulous line which pleased him, and 
he painted it. 

The fact that the Thames bounds English his- 
tory was of no consequence to him ; but the muddy 
river between lines of buildings and wharves and 
shipping, and covered by boats and crossed by 
bridges, furnished him endless compositions in line 
and color. 

The glory and the romance of Venice made no 
impression on his art ; but in out-of-the-way places, 
where others saw nothing, he found scenes which 
inspired his etchings. 

As an etcher and a lithographer Whistler played 
with the mystery of line, as in painting he played 
with the mystery of color. 

There is an art of pure line as there is an art of 
pure form and of pure color. It is just as possible 
to make a lot of meaningless lines which please the 
eye in their curves and endless variety as it is to 
please the eye with combinations of colors. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

Decorative patterns and designs, aside from 
color, are simply line harmonies. 

A child loves to make straight and round and 
curved lines upon slate or paper. 

The eye follows lines with a delight akin to that 
taken in form and color. 

When the Savoy Hotel was in process of con- 
struction, and the great steel beams thrust them- 
selves upward towards the sky, and there was a 
lattice-work of girders and a veritable song of line, 
Whistler, seeing it one day from a neighboring win- 
dow, exclaimed : 

" Hurry ; where are my things ? I must etch 
that now, for it will never again be so beautiful." 

High buildings, mechanical processes, modern 
costumes had no terrors for him, simply because he 
had no sentiment concerning them ; if they fur- 
nished him beauties of line or color he cared not 
whether they were new or old. 

Whistler's art was as devoid of sentiment as that 
of a Japanese. 

To our Western notions the everlasting convention 
that serves for a face in Japanese art seems hope- 
lessly monotonous. To them our painstaking char- 
acterization of the features and peculiarities of each 
person is no art at all, but grotesque caricature ; 
it is the subordination of art which is of universal 
interest to the eccentricities of the individual which 
are of local interest. 

In Whistler's art one must not look for any solu- 


tion of the problems of life, for any sign of the 
emotions which control human conduct, — for love 
and hate and fear, for hope and ambition, for the 
tortures of jealousy or the bitterness of despair, — 
these are all absent ; his art is pure and serene. His 
works are to painting what the "Ode to a Grecian 
Urn" or " A Midsummer Night's Dream" is to 
poetry, and hence in human interest they fall far 
short of the tragedies, the epics, the romances of 
literature and art, and they must not be judged by 
standards he did not seek to emulate. He could no 
more have painted a "Crucifixion" or a "Last 
Judgment" than he could have carved the "Moses" 
or written " Hamlet." In every sense, save that of 
abstract beauty of line and color, other painters 
have excelled Whistler, but as the master of pure 
line and color harmonies he is supreme. 

Whistler's etchings and lithographs were simply 
compositions in line, delightful harmonies in black 
and white. It is too bad to preserve their names or 
identify them with any locality, for their exquisite 
art is better appreciated if no distracting considera- 
tion is aroused. But, oddly enough, he occasionally 
made concessions in the naming of these that he 
did not in the naming of his paintings. 

Take, for instance, that charming lithograph, 
"Confidences in the Garden," — two ladies walking 
in the corner of an old garden. The garden is in 
the rear of his Paris home on the Rue du Bac. The 
ladies are probably Mrs. Whistler and her sister. But 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

what does it add to the print to call it "Confidences 
in the Garden" ? Nothing at all. On the contrary, 
the title at once suggests a host of considerations 
which conflict with the abstract enjoyment of the 

That sort of a title is precisely what he condemns 
for his paintings. It is, however, one of the very 
few instances where his titles suggest anything more 
than the obvious subject. For the most part he was 
consistent in choosing names that do not distract. 

Even the portraits he did not care to have known 

as "Portrait of Mr. A ," or " Portrait of Lady 

C ," thereby catering first to the vanity of a sit- 
ter, then to the idle curiosity of the multitude. His 
portraits were compositions in line and color, and, 
as such, were artistic creations. That they happened 
also to be portraits of certain individuals was a 
mere coincidence. The portrait feature, upon which 
people lay so much stress, was of the least conse- 
quence to him ; and just because he did not permit 
the photographic element to move him, he secured 
results which are far beyond the art of the "por- 

The sense of color is so lost to painters, as well as 
to laymen, that to talk of color compositions as one 
speaks of sound compositions is to challenge doubt 
and occasion surprise. And yet there is a music of 
color even as there is a music of sound, and there 
should be a delight in color composition even as 
there is a delight in sound composition ; and this 



delight should be something fundamentally distinct 
from any interest in the subject of the composition. 
The subject may be a man, or a woman, or a field, 
or a tree, or a wave, or a cloud, or just nothing at all 
— mere masses or streaks of color ; the perfection or 
the imperfection of the color arrangement remains 
the same. 

That the color-sense is lost to laymen, critics, and 
painters is evidenced by the ridicule that for thirty 
years was heaped upon Whistler for calling his pic- 
tures " harmonies," " symphonies," "nocturnes," 
etc. ; for adopting the more or less abstract nomen- 
clature of sound compositions — music — to describe 
color compositions. 

One paper described them as " some figure pieces, 
which this artist exhibits as ' harmonies' in this, that, 
or the other, being, as they are, mere rubs-in of 
color, have no claims to be regarded as pictures." 
Another says, "A dark bluish surface, with dots on 
it, and the faintest adumbrations of shape under the 
darkness, is gravely called a ' Nocturne in Black and 
Gold.'" Again, "Two of Mr. Whistler's 'color- 
symphonies,' a ' Nocturne in Blue and Gold,' and a 
'Nocturne in Black and Gold.' If he did not ex- 
hibit these as pictures under peculiar and, what 
seems to most people, pretentious titles they would 
be entitled to their due meed of admiration. But 
they only come one step nearer pictures than deli- 
cately graduated tints on a wall-paper do." 

And so in endless iteration and reiteration. 

It never occurred to either painters or critics to 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

judge the pictures as if they were in reality so 
many " delicately graduated tints on a wall-paper." 
The color-sense was deficient The pictures were 
judged by their composition, their subjects, — or, 
rather, not appreciated at all, but condemned, on ac- 
count of their titles, which expressed exactly what the 
painter desired to convey, — namely, his attempts to 
produce harmonies in color independently of subject. 

So far from Whistler's titles being absurd, they 
were so many frank attempts to tell the public what 
the painter was really trying to do. He might have 
been more obscure, like many a composer of music, 
and simply said, " Opus I.," or " Opus XX.," and so 
on. He did call three of his early pictures "Sym- 
phony in White, No. I.," " Symphony in White, No. 
II.," and "Symphony in White, No. III. ;" but the 
first, a full-length figure, was also known as the 
"White Girl" of the "Salon des Refuses," 1863; 
the second, a three-quarter length of a young girl 
in white, standing by a mantel, as "The Little 
White Girl ;" while the third, with no other title, is 
of two girls in white. 

But for the most part he chose to describe each 
particular work as an arrangement of blue and sil- 
ver, or black and gray, or flesh-color and brown, 
according to the predominating tones of the compo- 
sition, thereby aiding the eye of the observer. 

There are beauties of form devoid of color ; 
There are beauties of color devoid of form ; 
There are beauties of form and color combined. 



Of the foregoing the first is familiar in sculpture, 
and the third is familiar in painting, but the second 
is scarcely observed at all, though color without 
form is found wherever color is used decoratively. 

The ordinary house-painter endeavors to secure 
agreeable effects by the mere arrangement of colors. 
The interior-decorator endeavors — for the most part 
with disastrous results — to secure agreeable effects 
by the mere distribution of color. In a crude way 
the house-painter, the sign-painter, the decorator, 
the dyer, the dress-maker, are all color-composers, 
their object being to produce harmonies in color 
quite irrespective of line and form. They know 
nothing about drawing, they know nothing about 
modelling, but they try to please the eye by color 

To rightly understand the color-sense let us briefly 
consider the matter from its scientific side. 

The ear has a range of musical sounds of from 
sixteen and one-half air-vibrations per second — the 
note of the lowest pipe of the great organ — to four 
thousand seven hundred and fifty-two vibrations per 
second, the highest note of the piccolo of the 
orchestra, — a range of about eight octaves. 

Below sixteen and one-half vibrations per second, 
and above four thousand seven hundred and fifty- 
two, — as high, in fact, as forty thousand, — sounds 
are audible, but not musical, being either too low 
and throbbing or two high and piercing to be 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

In all countries this range of musical sounds is 
divided into octaves, — the octave of any given note 
having simply double the number of air-vibrations. 

At the present time, in the Western world, each 
octave is divided, as every one knows, into twelve 
intervals, indicated on the piano by the seven white 
keys and the five black. 

For instance, the middle C of the piano has two 
hundred and sixty-four vibrations per second, the C 
above has, of course, just double, or five hundred 
and twenty-eight vibrations per second. In the 
chromatic scale these two hundred and sixty-four 
vibrations, which make this octave, are divided into 
only twelve intervals, an average of twenty-two 
vibrations to the interval. In the octave above the 
average would be twice that, or forty-four, and so 
on doubling to the end. 

There is a change in pitch with the addition of 
so much as a fraction of a vibration per second. 
As a matter of fact, musicians can detect the varia- 
tion of pitch caused by the difference of half a 
vibration per second in the middle octaves ; the 
power to detect changes in pitch due to fractional 
changes in vibrations decreasing towards the bass 
and treble. 

With this power of discriminating a thousand 
degrees of pitch in a single octave the Western 
world is content to arbitrarily and mechanically 
divide the octave into but twelve tones and semi- 

The Arabic octave contains twenty- four quarter- 


tones, and Oriental nations generally take cogni- 
zance of intervals so small they seem to us discords. 
Helmholtz requested a distinguished musician to 
investigate this matter in Cairo, and this is the 
report : 

"This evening I have been listening attentively to the 
song on the minarets, to try to appreciate the quarter-tones, 
which I had not supposed to exist, as I had thought that the 
Arabs sang out of tune. But to-day as I was with the der- 
vishes I became certain that such quarter-tones existed, and 
for the following reasons : Many passages in litanies of this 
kind end with a tone which was at first the quarter-tone and 
ended in the pure tone. As the passage was frequently re- 
peated, I was able to observe this every time, and I found 
the intonation invariable. ' ' x 

All of which goes to show how susceptible the 
highly-trained ear is to fine gradations and combina- 
tions of sound and how easy it is to become accus- 
tomed to coarse intervals when the finer are no 
longer used. 

The various notes as sounded by a great variety 
of musical instruments constitute the raw material 
from which the composer and performer produce 
melodies and harmonies absolutely unknown to 
nature, and which — judged by the only possible 
standard, their emotional and intellectual effects — 
are incomparably finer than any sounds in nature, 

1 Helmholtz, Sensations of Tone, p. 265. 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

finer because a human utterance, the play of soul 
upon soul. 

The eye has a range of color-notes from four 
hundred millions of millions of ether-vibrations per 
second, the rate of the deepest red of the spectrum, 
to seven hundred and fifty millions of millions, the 
rate of the violet rays. The following table of 
vibration rates of the colors of the spectrum shows 
the vibration intervals which divide the pronounced 
colors : l 

Color-sensation. Ether-vibrations per second. 

Deep red 400 millions of millions. 

Red-orange 437 " " 

Yellow-orange 457 " " 

Yellow 509 " " 

Green 570 " " 

Blue-green 617 " " 

Blue-violet 696 

Violet 750 " " 

This color-scale, as produced by a great variety 
of agents, — such as colored lights, glass, stones, 
metals, fabrics, dyes, stains, pigments, etc., — consti- 
tutes the raw material from which the color-com- 
poser, painter, and decorator produce melodies 
and harmonies absolutely unknown to nature, and, 
judged as musical sounds are judged, are incom- 
parably finer than effects in nature, because essen- 

1 Fleming, Waves and Ripples in Water, Air, and ^Ether, 
p. 252. 



tially human, because produced by man for their 
emotional and intellectual effect upon man. 

Theoretically the variation of a single ether-vibra- 
tion per second changes the shade of the color ; but 
while the trained ear can detect the variation in 
pitch due to a half-vibration of air per second more 
or less, ether-vibrations are so incomparably more 
rapid that the best the trained eye can do is detect 
about one thousand different tints in the spectrum. 
In other words, there must be an increase or de- 
crease of three hundred and fifty thousand millions 
of ether-vibrations before even the practised eye is 
consciously affected. 

It is, however, altogether likely that while the 
eye is not consciously affected without these great 
variations in frequency, it is unconsciously affected, 
and susceptibility to and skill in handling color 
depend upon this unconscious susceptibility. 

It is pretty well established that the range of 
color-vision cannot be materially extended below 
the red or above the violet by practice, but suscep- 
tibility to color variations and the ability to distin- 
guish gradations of tone within the scale can be 
increased almost indefinitely. 

Education of the color-sense is the development 
of this unconscious susceptibility, — of the feeling 
for, as distinguished from a knowledge of, color. 

A man may know all about color and have no 
feeling for it. On the other hand, a man may be 
singularly susceptible to color-effects without being 
able to name correctly a dozen shades. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

Nothing educates the color-sense so much as 
steady contemplation of color-harmonies in nature 
and art. But unless a man possesses an instinctive 
feeling for color he will never select the best ex- 
amples ; whereas if his eye is exceedingly suscepti- 
ble he will intuitively cling to the best the world 

Whistler was gifted with susceptibility to color in 
an extraordinary degree. Where, by way of illustra- 
tion, the untrained eye can distinguish one or two 
hundred shades of color in the spectrum and the 
highly-trained eye a thousand, Whistler could prob- 
ably distingush two thousand, and possibly feel as 
many more. 

In fact, so keen was his susceptibility to color 
that intervals — to use, very legitimately, the musical 
term — quite imperceptible to others affected him 

The neck-tie of a sitter once caused him no end 
of trouble. 

The suit the sitter was wearing was of a light- 
brown tone; the ulster was of a darker Scotch 
plaid, — all softened in tone by time and wear. In 
so many shades of brown it certainly seemed to the 
casual eye that the shade of the brown silk tie the 
sitter had on found a place. But, no; to Whistler it 
was a discordant note, though half hidden by the 
garments. All available ties were exhausted, — even 
those of friends and neighboring artists were levied 



upon. Others could see nothing inharmonious in 
many of the ties that were tried ; but they made 
Whistler positively uncomfortable, — just as uncom- 
fortable as the leader of an orchestra is when an in- 
strument plays a discord ; and it was not until the 
" Bon Marche" had been ransacked — for, not ties, 
but simply fabrics in shades of brown — that a piece 
was found that would answer. 

Then, mark you, the brown of the tie was by no 
means reproduced in the portrait, but the brown as 
modified by all the browns and notes of the entire 
costume, and as still further modified by all the 
browns and all the notes and shades and lights of 
the studio. 

During this search for a note of brown — a search 
which seemed to the sitter, and even to artist friends, 
finical in the extreme — the great painter one after- 
noon justified himself by showing some little pastel 
sketches of a model with bits of transparent drapery 
floating about her. The sketches were on coarse 
brown board, and about ten or twelve inches high 
by five or six wide, and there were just a few strokes 
of almost imperceptible color to indicate the flesh 
tones and the draperies, all so slight as to scarce 
attract notice ; and yet each of the filmy bits of 
drapery had been dyed by the painter with as much 
care to secure the desired notes as he would take in 
painting a portrait. 

No one who has not seen him at work can form 
any adequate notion of his extreme susceptibility 
to infinitesimal variations of color ; it exceeded that 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

of any painter of whom the Western world has suffi- 
cient record for comparison. 
A Frenchman has said : 

' ' Whistler's works are dreams of color. The gray of them 
is unique. It is made of white, blue, green, of all the tints. 
It is the tender gray of England's coasts, of the North Sea, 
and of the sky that in summer is above it ; the horizon gray 
where the pale blue of the sky and the pale green of the sea 
unite and form one. 

"It is a subtle shade, in accord with the penumbras in 
which he delighted. He was the musician of the rainbow. 
No one understood as well as he the mysterious relations of 
painting and of music, the seven notes and the seven colors, 
and the way to play these with the sharps and flats of the 
prism. Even as a symphony is in D or a sonata is in A, his 
pictures were orchestrated according to a tone, — the ' Lady 
with the Iris,' for example, a mauve flower placed in the 
hand of the figure, as a note and signifying that the portrait 
was to be a colored polyphony of lilac and of violets. 

"More precision is lent to this curious aesthetic by the 
titles that he gave to certain small canvases representing 
twilights of Venice and of London, which he entitled ' Noc- 
turnes,' in a parallel with those of Chopin, but of a Chopin 
serene and who dreams instead of a Chopin ill and who 
weeps. There, as in portraits, the gray of England's coasts 
appears, but bluer. It has in portraits the tints of twilight 
in ashes. In all his works he reveals the land of his origin, 
the land that has produced Edgar Allan Poe. ' ' 

Many stories are told illustrating his suscepti- 
bility to color. Some of them are pointless ; but 
the fact they are told at all shows how this trait im- 
pressed both the artists and the public. 

" One morning he had an engagement at a banker's, where 
he was to receive a large sum of money for a set of etchings, 
13 193 


a sum that he happened to need very much at that time. 
He was busy chatting and showing some of his things to an 
appreciative visitor, who happened to know the circum- 
stances, and considerately reminded him that he had far to 
go and that the American would probably be in a hurry and 
would not wait. 

" 'Yes,' said Whistler ; 'but just look at this now,' pulling 
forward another canvas. And so it went on, until his friend 
said : ' Whistler, you really must go ! That man will never 
wait for you. ' 

" 'What a nuisance you are !' he exclaimed ; but he got 
ready, and they started. 

' ' They were tearing down the street at a great rate, when 
Whistler suddenly stopped the cab and made the driver go 
back to a certain spot, — and they had to go backwards and 
forwards for quite a while before they found the exact place, 
— in order to get a view of a certain little green-grocer's shop, 
with his fruit and vegetables outside, striped awnings, etc. 

' ' Whistler put up his hands for a frame, squinted and 
twisted. 'Beautiful!' he exclaimed. 'Lovely! I'm going 
to do that ; but I think I'll have him move the oranges over 
to the right more, and that green, now — let me see ' 

"'Whistler!' cried his friend, 'do come along! That 
man will be home in New York before we get there !' 

" 'What a nuisance you are !' declared W T histler, and was 
sulky the rest of the way. 

" It was not a pose. The painter was so enchanted by what 
he saw that banker and money were nothing to him at that 
moment. ' ' 

And it is said a visitor once found him at work in 
his studio. 

" The furniture was of a pale gray ; the hangings 
were of the same color ; the window shades were 
of gray ; the model a woman with gray eyes, wear- 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

ing a gray costume ; and the costume of the painter 
was also of the same prevailing color. 

" Whistler refused to talk with his visitor until he 
had removed his flaming red cravat ; and, after a 
few minutes' conversation, commented upon the 
fact that the tone values of his coat and trousers 
were out of harmony." 

An exaggeration, but it all might have occurred ; 
for has he not himself described, in " Gentle Art," 
how the loud dress of a critic destroyed his exhibi- 
tion. "To have seen him, O, my wise Atlas, was 
my privilege and my misery, — for he stood under 
one of my own 'harmonies,' already with diffi- 
culty gasping its gentle breath, himself an amazing 
'arrangement' in strong mustard-and-cress, with 
bird's-eye belcher of Reckitt's blue, and then and 
there destroyed absolutely, unintentionally, and 
once for all, my year's work !" 

The analogy between the musical scale and the 
color scale has been many times noted. 
Helmholtz l draws the following analogy : 

F % End of the red. 

G Red. 

G# Red. 

A Red. 

A # Orange-red. 

B Orange. 

1 Physiological Optics, p. 237. 


c Yellow. 

c jf Green. 

d Greenish-blue. 

d # Cyanogen-blue. 

e Indigo-blue. 

f Violet. 

f % Violet. 

g Ultra-violet. 

g % Ultra-violet. 

a Ultra-violet. 

a J Ultra-violet. 

b End of the solar spectrum. 

There is, of course, this fundamental difference 
between the two senses : the action of air-waves 
upon the ear is mechanical, simply a succession of 
beats, while the action of ether-waves upon the 
retina is chemical in its character. 

The true analogy lies in the simple fact that the 
ear is susceptible to certain sounds produced by air- 
waves of certain frequencies, while the eye is sus- 
ceptible to certain colors produced by ether-waves 
of certain frequencies, and it is possible to mechani- 
cally combine in one case the sounds so as to pro- 
duce harmonies that please the ear, and in the other 
case the colors so as to produce harmonies that 
please the eye ; and so far as pure sound and pure 
color is concerned, the harmonious compositions 
need have no relation, imitative or otherwise, to 
anything in nature. 

The uneducated ear prefers melodies which are 
more or less suggestive of sounds heard in nature, — 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

more or less realistic imitations of songs of birds, 
rippling of waters, falling of rain, rustling of leaves, 
crashing of thunder, etc. ; or if familiar sounds are 
not imitated, the title of the composition must sug- 
gest some incident, place, or scene more or less 
familiar, so the deficient ear may be helped out by 
the imagination. 

The highly-trained ear, on the other hand, delights 
in abstract compositions of sound, in harmonies 
which have no perceptible relation to any sound in 
nature, and which do not suggest any person, scene, 
or incident in literature or history. 

The purer the taste in music the more abstract the 
compositions that satisfy. 

So far as the appreciation of color harmonies is 
concerned, the taste of the Western world is like unto 
that of the uneducated ear in music. 

We are not content with pure color compositions 
as we are with pure sound, but we demand either 
imitations of natural objects or representations of 
historical, literary, religious, or emotional subjects. 
We must have something besides pure line and color. 

A musician may strike a succession of notes, or a 
chord, and we are pleased, the ear is satisfied ; but 
if the painter simply sweeps his brush several times 
across the canvas, we are not satisfied, though the 
combination of colors be something more beautiful 
and harmonious than anything ever seen. It is not 
a " picture" to us; it lacks the "subject" to which 
we are accustomed. 

And yet there are in existence certain canvases 


by Whistler which are little more than color-schemes, 
and which in color-effects are among the most beau- 
tiful things he ever painted ; and in all the galleries 
of Europe there is nothing to compare with them 
in pure joyousness of color. 

As children and men we enjoy the color-effects 
of fireworks against the blackness of night, and we 
enjoy the darkness and the shadows about us, the 
sudden light upon expectant faces, the dark-moving 
figures in the intervals. All this is delight in color, — 
color without sentiment, color without story, color 
without other thought or reflection than pure sen- 
suous enjoyment ; and we even feel the tawdry 
cheapness of the attempt when by set arrangement 
the features of some local or national celebrity are 
presented. But when an artist who sees such a night- 
scene and paints it in such manner that the color- 
scheme is preserved and its beauty enhanced in trans- 
lation, we demand something more. We demand, 
as did Burne-Jones, " detail and composition," — in 
short, we demand the features of our local celebrity. 

Until we learn to love color, as we love music, for 
its own sake, there will never be any decorations of 
homes and public buildings that will be worth while. 

In days long gone by, in Italy during the Renais- 
sance and before, in Greece during the Golden Age, 
color was enjoyed for the sake of color, regardless 
of the dictates of nature. If an Italian felt like 
making a background of blue or gold, he did so ; 
if a Greek felt like painting and gilding his sculpture, 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

he did so, until the Parthenon and its contents must 
have been gorgeous with color, laid on, not after the 
precepts of nature, but for the most part arbitrarily, 
to please the eye. 

All decoration begins with nature and ends in 

In this progress from birth in the imitation of 
natural forms and colors to death in the rigidity of 
a hard and lifeless convention there is a maturity 
wherein lines and contours and colors play with 
perfect freedom, original forms and models being 
absorbed in the finer creations of the imagination. 

Ruskin habitually confused the use of color with 
the painting of light ; while in truth there is no 
necessary connection at all between colorists and 
lightists, — to coin a word that will very legitimately 
mark a distinction. 

The painting of light is the distinguishing feature 
of nineteenth-century art, and Turner was the 
apostle crying in the wilderness of darkness ; he 
was the first to successfully attempt the realization 
of sunlight. He keyed his palette up with the sun 
as the objective point, while the Italians who had 
influenced him had keyed theirs up simply to pro- 
duce color-effects. They decorated walls and altars 
and painted pictures — as a potter decorates his 
earthen bowl — to please the eye. 

Although Ruskin habitually speaks of Turner as 
a colorist, and undoubtedly says a great many fine 
things concerning color, he did not care at all for 



color apart from the delineation of form. To him 
color was useful only as a mode of drawing ; in 
itself it was as nothing at all. 

Speaking of his so-called "truths" of color, he 
says : 

' ' All truths of color sink at once into the second rank. 
He, therefore, who has neglected a truth of form for a truth 
of color has neglected a great truth for a less one. 

"That color is indeed a most unimportant characteristic 
of objects will be farther evident on the slightest considera- 
tion. The color of plants is constantly changing with the 
season, and of everything with the quality of light falling 
on it ; but the nature and essence of the thing are indepen- 
dent of these changes. An oak is an oak, whether green 
with spring or red with winter ; a dahlia is a dahlia, whether 
it be yellow or crimson ; and if some monster-hunting botanist 
should ever frighten the flower blue, still it will be a dahlia ; 
but let one curve of the petals, one groove of the stamens, 
be wanting, and the flower ceases to be the same. ' " l 

" The most convincing proof of the unimportance of color 
lies in the accurate observation of the way in which any 
material object impresses itself on the mind. If we look at 
nature carefully we shall find that her colors are in a state 
of perpetual confusion and indistinctness, while her forms, as 
told by light and shade, are invariably clear, distinct, and 
speaking. The stones and gravel of the bank catch green 
reflections from the boughs above ; the bushes receive grays 
and yellows from the ground ; every hairbreadth of polished 
surface gives a little bit of the blue sky or the gold of the sun, 
like a star upon the local color ; this local color, changeful 
and uncertain in itself, is again disguised and modified by 
the hue of the light or quenched in the gray of the shadow ; 
and the confusion and blending of tint is altogether so great 

Modern Painters, vol. i., partii., sec. i., chap, v., par. 3. 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

that were we left to find out what objects were by their colors 
only, we would scarcely in places distinguish the boughs of a 
tree from the air beyond them or the ground beneath them. 

"We shall see hereafter, in considering ideas of beauty, 
that color, even as a source of pleasure, is feeble compared to 
form. But this we cannot insist upon at present, — we have 
only to do with simple truth ; and the observations we have 
made are sufficient to prove that the artist who sacrifices or 
forgets a truth of form in the pursuit of a truth of color sac- 
rifices what is definite to what is uncertain and what is 
essential to what is accidental." 1 

' ' It is, indeed, by this that the works of Turner are 
peculiarly distinguished from those of all other colorists, — by 
the dazzling intensity, namely, of the light which he sheds 
through every hue, and which, far more than their brilliant 
color, is the real source of their overpowering effect upon the 
eye, an effect so reasonably made the subject of perpetual 
animadversion, as if the sun which they represent were a 
quiet, and subdued, and gentle, and manageable luminary, 
and never dazzled anybody, under any circumstances what- 
soever. I am fond of standing by a bright Turner in the 
Academy, to listen to the unintentional compliments of the 
crowd, — 'What a glaring thing !' * I declare I can't look at 
it !' ' Don't it hurt your eyes ?' — expressed as if they were in 
the constant habit of looking the sun full in the face with 
the most perfect comfort and entire facility of vision. It is 
curious after hearing people malign some of Turner's noble 
passages of light to pass to some really ungrammatical and 
false pictures of the old masters in which we have color given 
without light. ' ' J 

"What I am next about to say with respect to Turner's 
color I should wish to be received with caution, as it admits 

1 Modern Painters, vol. i., partii., sec. i., chap, v., par. 8, 9. 

2 Ibid., sec. ii., chap, ii., par. 12. 



of dispute. I think that the first approach to viciousness of 
color in any master is commonly indicated chiefly by a prev- 
alence of purple and an absence of yellow. I think nature 
mixes yellow with almost every one of her hues, never, or 
very rarely, using red without it, but frequently using yellow 
with scarcely any red ; and I believe it will be in consequence 
found that her favorite opposition, that which generally char- 
acterizes and gives tone to her color, is yellow and black, 
passing, as it retires, into white and blue. It is beyond dis- 
pute that the great fundamental opposition of Rubens is yel- 
low and black, and that on this, concentrated in one part 
of the picture and modified in various grays throughout, 
chiefly depend the tones of all his finest works. And in 
Titian, though there is a far greater tendency to the purple 
than in Rubens, I believe no red is ever mixed with the pure 
blue, or glazed over it, which has not in it a modifying quan- 
tity of yellow. At all events, I am nearly certain that what- 
ever rich and pure purples are introduced locally by the great 
colorists nothing is so destructive of all fine color as the 
slightest tendency to purple in general tone ; and I am 
equally certain that Turner is distinguished from all the 
vicious colorists of the present day by the foundation of all 
his tones being black, yellow, and the intermediate grays, 
while the tendency of our common glare- seekers is invariably 
to pure, cold, impossible purples. ' ' 

' ' Powerful and captivating and faithful as his color is, it 
is the least important of all his excellences, because it is the 
least important feature of nature. He paints in color, but 
he thinks in light and shade ; and, were it necessary, rather 
than lose one line of his forms or one ray of his sunshine, 
would, I apprehend, be content to paint in black and white 
to the end of his life. ' ' l 

1 Modern Painters, vol. i., part ii., sec. ii., chap, ii., par. 
17, 20. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

For practical purposes truths of form are more 
essential than ' truths' of color ; to mistake the size, 
shape, solidity, and texture of anything is far more 
disastrous than to mistake its color. The color- 
blind get on very well in the world, often without 
knowing their defect ; but a person who was form- 
blind would not get on at all. 

The correct appreciation of form is of such vital 
importance that two senses are brought to bear, — the 
sense of touch — the parent sense — as well as the 
sense of sight ; and without the co-operation of the 
sense of touch, sight would be comparatively help- 
less in recognizing solidity, texture, contours, etc. 
In the appreciation of form touch gets on very well 
without sight, while sight could not get on at all 
without touch ; but, happily, a sense so precious is 
never completely lost. 

Ruskin constantly uses the phrases, "truths of 
form," "truths of color," and it is apparent that by 
these phrases he really means fidelity to natural 
effects. With him a drawing, be it of a stone, a leaf, 
a tree, a mountain, is not true unless it corresponds 
to the thing in nature ; nor is a light or a shadow 
or a color true unless it corresponds to the effect in 

Now, so far as art is concerned, those so-called 
" truths" are of the least importance. 

Suppose a musician were to talk of "truths of 
sound," meaning thereby the more or less faithful 
imitation of the songs of birds, the rippling of 
waters, the roll of thunder. Every one would 



know that his art was of the most primitive char- 

" Truths of sound," in the sense that Ruskin 
speaks of " truths of form" and " truths of color," 
are not tolerated in music. To attain certain effects, 
dramatic in character, imitations of sounds in nature 
are sometimes introduced, but sparingly, and unless 
with great skill the effect is disagreeable to even the 
uneducated ear, and if pressed too far it becomes 

One art is like unto another, and what are really 
"truths" in one are "truths" in another. It is im- 
material whether the sense of hearing, sight, or 
touch is appealed to ; it does not matter whether it 
is a composition of sound, of color, of line, or of 
form that is under consideration, the fundamental 
principles of the art are the same ; and one of the 
fundamental propositions is : imitation is fatal to 
pure art. 

It is the business of art to improve on nature, to 
take the raw materials nature furnishes — her forces, 
her forms, her lines, her colors, her lights and 
shadows, her sounds, her odors, her flavors — and pro- 
duce from them harmonious and agreeable effects 
unknown to nature. 

Whistler has said : 

"The imitator is a poor kind of creature. If the man 
who paints only the tree or flower or other surface he sees 
before him were an artist, the king of artists would be the 
photographer. It is for the artist to do something beyond 
this : in portrait-painting to put on canvas something more 



OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

than the face the model wears for that one day, — to paint the 
man, in short, as well as his features ; in arrangement of 
colors to treat a flower as his key, not as his model." 1 

Art begins with "truths," in the Ruskin sense, 
and flowers in " harmonies," in the Whistler sense. 
It begins with the concrete, with imitation, with 
fidelity to natural effects, and it develops by a 
process of abstraction until it attains the chaste 
perfection of a Greek temple or a Beethoven sym- 

Nature is never left entirely behind, and some 
arts are more dependent upon her than others ; but, 
generally speaking, the more abstract the art the 
higher it is ; the purer and freer it is from imitation 
or suggestion of natural effects, the nobler its 
attainment. Because poetry and music are almost 
entirely independent of nature and natural effects, 
do they as arts, from one point of view, outrank 
sculpture and painting. 

Ruskin, of course, was by no means blind to 
these considerations, and when he talked of " truths 
of form" and "truths of color" he did not mean 
literal imitation, but he did mean the fidelity of a 
draughtsman, of a man whose eye and mind were on 
the thing or effect before him ; and his great work is 
one long attempt to show that Turner in his brilliant 
and fanciful\compositions was still clinging close to 

Gentle Art, p. 128. 


nature, that he painted rocks and trees and clouds 
and sunlight as they really were, and more beautifully 
than any man before or since. 

All of which goes to show that Turner was not 
a colorist in the sense Whistler was. 

The one used color as a means, the other as an 
end. To the one color, like line, or like black and 
white, was incidental to his composition — the com- 
position, the conception, the dream, the fancy, — 
in short, the subject, being all important. To the 
other harmonies in color was the end in view, almost 
to the exclusion in some of the nocturnes of line 
and of form. 

To Ruskin, even more than with Turner, color 
was simply a means to an end, — the more perfect 
imitation of nature ; hence his utter lack of sympa- 
thy for Whistler's work. 

To pure color arrangements Ruskin was blind. He 
demanded a relation and significance beyond the 
mere color harmony. Lines or waves of color placed 
side by side arbitrarily, and with no more relation to 
nature than so many notes of music, had no mean- 
ing for him, whereas for Whistler they meant 
practically all there is to the science and art of 

To Ruskin the blue hair of a Greek statue would 
have seemed absurd and childish ; to the Greek it 
would have been simply a color-note in the place 
where it was needed to perfect the color-scheme. 

So utterly wanting is the sense of color-music in 
the modern world that we like our sculpture in 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

either ghastly marble, or, still more perversely, with 
the yellow hues and dirt and dinginess wrought by 
time and the elements, whereas those who created 
the greatest sculpture known subdued all garish 
qualities by the use of gold and bronze and color, 
not imitatively, but arbitrarily, to please a highly 
cultivated fancy. 

From descriptions of Ruskin's home, "Brant- 
wood," it is clear that he had no craving for har- 
monious effects about him. Discords did not disturb 
him ; he could return with no sensations of discom- 
fort from the keen appreciation of natural beauties 
to rooms which would be intolerable to any one 
like Whistler with an instinct for proportion and 

The house had "a stucco classic portico in the 
corner, painted and grained and heaped around 
with lucky horseshoes, highly black-leaded." The 
incongruity of the painting and graining — so con- 
trary to all Ruskin's teachings — and black-leaded 
horseshoes surprised even his friendly biographer. 

His own room "he papered with naturalistic 
fancies to his own taste," and on the walls were " a 
Diirer engraving, some Prouts and Turners, a couple 
of old Venetian heads, and Meissonier's ' Napo- 
leon,' " — a typical collector's conglomeration. 

The walls of the dining-room were painted "duck- 
egg," whatever that color may be, and covered with 
an even more heterogeneous collection of pictures, 
— " the ' Doge of Gritta,' a bit saved from the great 



Titian that was burnt in the fire at the Ducal 
Palace in 1574 ; a couple of Tintorets ; Turner and 
Reynolds, each painted by himself in youth ; Ra- 
phael, by a pupil, so it is said ; portraits of old Mr. 
and Mrs. Ruskin and little John and his ' boo 
hills.' " 

His study was " papered with a pattern specially 
copied from Marco Marziali's ' Circumcision' in the 
National Gallery, and hung with Turners." There 
was a crimson arm-chair and a " polished-steel 
fender, very unartistic," his biographer remarks ; 
" red mahogany furniture, with startling shiny em- 
erald leather chair-cushions ; red carpet and green 
curtains." This is the sort of room wherein Ruskin 
worked and wrote. It simply illustrates the truth 
that it is one thing to write and talk about color and 
a far different thing to really feel color. 

It is the custom to call every man who paints in 
high key or uses brilliant colors a colorist, as Rus- 
kin called Turner and Rubens colorists ; but it is 
not the mere use of color that makes a man a 
colorist, but the use he makes of it, the object he 
has in mind in using it. 

The mechanical draughtsman and the architect 
may use on their plans and designs all the known 
colors, but no one would think of calling either a 

In painting still-life a man may exhaust the palette 
and yet be no colorist. In painting portraits one 
man may require his sitters to dress in bright colors, 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

another in sober blacks, grays, or browns, with the 
result that one set of portraits fairly dazzle the be- 
holder, while the other scarce attracts attention ; and 
yet the former may not be the work of a colorist 
while the latter may. 

The determining factor is the attitude of the 
painter towards color. If he uses color imitatively, 
or as incidental to drawing, or as a means to some 
end other than the production of color harmonies, 
he is not a colorist ; but if his delight is in color, if 
he uses color for the sake of color, for the sake of 
charming the eye, as the ear is charmed by music, 
then he is a colorist. 

No hard and fast line of demarcation can be 
drawn, since every painter is something of a color- 
ist ; but between the two extremes of the painter on 
one hand who uses color imitatively or as incidental 
to drawing and the colorist who produces and de- 
lights in pure color schemes and harmonies there is 
a wide interval. 

Whistler, in his love of color, approached the lat- 
ter extreme ; but it was only when he practised 
decoration that he could indulge his fancy without 
limitations. When he brought the Leyland dining- 
room into harmony with his " Princess of the Land 
of Porcelain" by the use of blue and gold, line 
and form — though somewhat apparent — were virtu- 
ally negligible quantities ; and when he arranged 
the reception-room of the house in Rue du Bac, and 
his own studio, the only considerations were the 

J 4 209 


In his " White Girl" of 1863 Whistler began in 
a large way his symphonies in color ; and while in 
pictures like the "Thames in Ice," "The Music 
Room," and "At the Piano" he painted along 
more conventional lines, these departures were in- 
frequent and in themselves exhibited his predilec- 
tion for color. It was simply impossible for him to 
paint any picture without making the color harmony 
a prime object. 

Not long after the "White Girl," which was 
"Symphony in White, No. I.," followed the other 
experiments in white, known as Symphonies Nos. 
II. and III. 

Then came — the chronological order is not im- 
portant — the Japanese group, "The Princess of the 
Land of Porcelain," "The Gold Screen," "The 
Balcony," the " Lange Leizen," and others, in which 
the figures and accessories, though still promi- 
nent, were made subordinate to the brilliant color 
schemes. The compositions were still obvious, but 
the color incomparably more so. 

Then the "Nocturnes," in which detail and com- 
position were refined away, and little remained but 
color-effects so exquisite that they seemed, and still 
seem, beyond the power of brush, and more like 
some thin glazes and enamels than paintings on 

As music in color the "Nocturnes" and certain 
of the "Harmonies" and "Symphonies," wherein 
detail is as nothing and the color everything, are 
Whistler's most exquisite — the word is used ad- 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

visedly — achievements. Others will equal his por- 
traits before they equal his "Nocturnes." 

As a still further step towards pure color compo- 
sition he had in mind for years a series of pictures, 
pure creations of fancy, somewhat suggestive of the 
Japanese group, but less realistic — just color-music. 
Happily, the sketches are in existence, and afford 
some indication of the color-dreams that floated 
through the great painter's imagination. They show 
how musical color is when freed from entangling 
associations and used broadly and decoratively. 

We have, then, the following phases, rather than 
" periods," in his mastery of color : 

1. That wherein composition and detail predomi- 
nate, though color is the motive. 

2. That wherein composition and detail are still 
conspicuous, but are subordinate to the color 

3. That wherein composition and detail are 
practically lost in the effort to produce subtle color 

4. That wherein the sole object is color-music, 
quite regardless of other considerations. 

This progress from the, so to speak, tentative use 
of color in connection with more or less conven- 
tional composition to the triumph of color and sup- 
pression of composition is abundantly illustrated in 
his works. It would not be difficult to arrange an 
exhibition of four groups of about three canvases 
each, which would illustrate each phase. Such an 



exhibition would do more to enlighten the public 
regarding his work than any number of exhibitions 
of a large number of pictures gathered and grouped 
in the usual way. 

Regarding the use of flat tones he is reported to 
have once said : 

" House-painters have the right idea about paint- 
ing, God bless them." 

How far removed from Ruskin, who said : 

" Hence, wherever in a painting we have unva- 
ried color extended even over a small space, there 
is falsehood. Nothing can be natural which is mo- 
notonous ; nothing true which only tells one story." 

To Ruskin nature was all in all ; to Whistler 
color was of first consideration. The one looked at 
color to find natural effects ; the other looked at 
nature to find color-effects. 

Whistler chose intuitively those scenes and those 
hours of the day when he would be least hampered 
by rigid requirements of line and form. 

He frequently painted the sea under strong light ; 
but under any light water presents itself in broken 
lines and large masses. 

He was a master of line in the high sense that 
with a few lines he could render not only the char- 
acter but the characteristics of whatever was before 
him. He was a master of form, — even as Ruskin 
uses the term, — since he could, when the conditions 
required it, express the most subtle contours in 
terms of light and shade and color ; but he cared 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

less for the bald realities of sunlight than for the 
shadows of dusk and the mysteries of night. 
He has himself said : 

" The sun blares, the wind blows from the east, the sky is 
bereft of cloud, and without all is of iron. The windows of 
the Crystal Palace are seen from all points of London. The 
holiday-maker rejoices in the glorious day, and the painter 
turns aside to shut his eyes. 

" How little this is understood, and how dutifully the 
casual in nature is accepted as sublime, may be gathered 
from the unlimited admiration daily produced by a very 
foolish sunset. 

" The dignity of the snow-capped mountain is lost in dis- 
tinctness, but the joy of the tourist is to recognize the trav- 
eller on the top. The desire to see for the sake of seeing 
is, with the mass, alone the one to be gratified, hence the 
delight in detail. 

"And when the evening mist clothes the riverside with 
poetry, as with a veil, and the poor buildings lose themselves 
in the dim sky, and the tall chimneys become campanili, 
and the warehouses are palaces in the night, and the whole 
city hangs in the heavens, and fairy-land is before us, — then 
the wayfarer hastens home ; the working-man and the cul- 
tured one, the wise man and the one of pleasure cease to 
understand, as they have ceased to see ; and Nature, who, 
for once, has sung in tune, sings her exquisite song to the 
artist alone, her son and her master, — her son in that he 
loves her, her master in that he knows her." 1 

And it was his habit to paint when the studio was 
filled with gloom and lengthening shadows crept 
across the floor ; when it was so dark the dull eye 

1 Gentle Art, pp. 143, 144. 


of sitter or chance visitor could scarce distinguish 
the figure on the canvas. 

This " painting in the dark," as some have called 
it, was a singular trait. He would paint with in- 
creasing force and effect as the room became darker 
and darker, until it seemed as if the falling of night 
was an inspiration. 

Once a sitter asked him how it was possible to 
paint when it was so dark. 

" As the light fades and the shadows deepen all 
petty and exacting details vanish, everything trivial 
disappears, and I see things as they are in great 
strong masses : the buttons are lost, but the gar- 
ment remains ; the garment is lost, but the sitter 
remains ; the sitter is lost, but the shadow remains ; 
the shadow is lost, but the picture remains. And that 
night cannot efface from the painter's imagination." 

People never could understand his attitude towards 
nature. When he spoke of the " unlimited admira- 
tion daily produced by a very foolish sunset," and 
how "the dignity of the snow-capped mountain is 
lost in distinctness, but the joy of the tourist is to 
recognize the traveller on the top," he at once puz- 
zled and irritated the lay mind, for is not the sunset 
beautiful ? and the , traveller on the highest peak 
of greater interest than the mountain ? 

When a lady one day rushed up to him and en- 
thusiastically exclaimed : 

"Oh, Mr. Whistler, I have just been up the river, 
and it reminded me so much of your pictures." 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

And he replied : 

"Indeed ! Then, Nature is looking up," — people 
resented it as vanity. 

But it was not vanity. It was simply his attitude 
towards nature and art. 

If some one had said to Mendelssohn, " I have 
just been in the woods and heard sounds that were 
just like some of your " Songs without Words," 
Mendelssohn would have been surprised, and might 
well have replied, " Then, the birds are doing better." 

Concerning nature, Whistler said : 

"That nature is always right is an assertion artistically 
as untrue as it is one whose truth is universally taken for 
granted. Nature is very rarely right ; to such an extent, 
even, that it might almost be said that nature is usually 
wrong. That is to say, the condition of things that shall 
bring about the perfection of harmony worthy a picture is 
rare, and not common at all. 

"This would seem, to even the most intelligent, a doctrine 
almost blasphemous. So incorporated with our education 
has the supposed aphorism become, that its belief is held 
to be part of our moral being ; and the words themselves 
have, in our ear, the ring of religion. Still, seldom does 
nature succeed in producing a picture." ] 

One should never confound art with nature ; they 
are antithetical terms. There is no art in nature ; 
there should be no nature in art. And what is art 
is not nature, and what is nature is not art. 

Nature is the raw material, art is the finished 
product ; and art should no more resemble nature 

1 Gentle Art, p. 143. 



than a house resembles a cave. And to the extent 
that art slavishly imitates nature is it of the cave- 
dwelling variety. 

There is no color that is not found in nature. 
There is no combination of colors a hint of which 
cannot be found in nature. But it is the business 
of art to take the colors, accept the hints, and pro- 
duce combinations and effects not found in nature. 

It is not the business of the artist to paint any- 
thing as it is, but everything as he sees it. 

Yet the public demand that a tree shall be repro- 
duced as they see it, — that the picture shall be a 
substitute for the reality. Why not go to the win- 
dow and look at the tree ? For, as a tree, with its 
quivering leaves and the infinite play of light and 
shadow, it is more beautiful than any realistic pho- 
tograph, drawing, or painting possibly could be. 
But to see the reflection of the tree in the depths 
of a human soul one must turn to art, to poetry, to 
music, or to painting. The reflection may not at all 
resemble the reality any more than Keats's " Ode 
to a Nightingale" resembles the bird or the song of 
the bird ; but it will be far more interesting and far 
more beautiful because a human expression. 

The child's mud-house and the boy's snow-man 
are of greater concern to humankind than all the 
plains and mountains of the earth. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 


The Royal Society of British Artists — In Paris 
once more — At Home and at Work. 

In June, 1886, Whistler was elected president of 
the Royal Society of British Artists. 

Prior to that time he had exhibited in the rooms 
of the society in Suffolk Street, and he was no 
doubt elected to give life to a moribund association. 
He succeeded beyond the wildest anticipations of 
the most sanguine members. 

He rearranged the exhibitions by excluding suffi- 
cient of the unworthy to leave ample space on the 
walls for the proper exhibition of such pictures as 
were accepted. 

When the Prince of Wales, now King Edward, 
visited the galleries for the first time, Whistler, as 
president, received him. And when the prince said 
he had never before heard of the society and asked 
its history, Whistler, with the grace of a courtier, 
replied : 

" It has none, your Highness. Its history dates 
from to-day." 

Two years of so revolutionary a president were 
all the ancient association could stand. As has been 
well said : x 

1 London Times, July 18, 1903. 



" That Suffolk-Street episode was, perhaps, the oddest of 
an odd career. The most mediocre and middle-class of all 
the artistic societies of London was in low water, and the 
thought occurred to some revolutionary members to make 
Whistler president. It was like electing a sparrow-hawk to 
rule a community of bats. Some of the bats moved out, 
some followers of the sparrow-hawk came in ; but the interest- 
ing new community did not last long. The suburban ladies, 
who had been the support of the Society of British Artists, 
were shocked at the changes. They found no pleasure in 
the awning stretched across the middle of the room, the bat- 
tened walls, the spaced-out ' impressionist' pictures, and the 
total absence of the anecdotes and bright colors which they 
loved. A few hundred visitors of another sort came, and were 
charmed, but the commercial test of success was not satis- 
fied. Before long Whistler ceased to be president, and the 
society, under a more congruous chief, ' relapsed to its 
ancient mood.' " 

When he failed of re-election many of his friends 

"It is all very simple," he said. "The 'Royal 
Society of British Artists' has disintegrated, — the 
'Artists' have come out, the 'British' remain." 

When interviewed to obtain his explanation of 
the "state of affairs :" 

' ' The state of affairs ?' ' said Mr. Whistler, in his light and 
airy way, raising his eyebrows and twinkling his eyes, as if 
it were all the best possible fun in the world ; "why, my dear 
sir, there's positively no state of affairs at all. Contrary to 
public declaration, there's actually nothing chaotic in the 
whole business. On the contrary, everything is in order, and 
just as it should be, — the survival of the fittest as regards 
the presidency, don't you see ; and, well — Suffolk Street is 
itself again ! A new government has come in ; and, as I 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

told the members the other night, I congratulate the society 
on the result of their vote : for no longer can it be said that 
the right man is in the wrong place. No doubt their pristine 
sense of undisturbed somnolence will again settle upon them 
after the exasperated mental condition arising from the un- 
natural strain recently put upon the old ship. Eh ? what ? 
ha ! ha!" 

He painted a signboard for the entrance to the 
galleries, — a lion and a butterfly, — a " harmony in 
gold and red," with which, he says, " I took as 
much trouble as I did with the best picture I ever 

But his successor in office clothed the golden lion 
"with a coat of dirty black," and effaced the butter- 
fly entirely ; whereupon he called the society to task 
for destroying the work of a fellow-artist, and the 
entire episode appears in the "Gentle Art" as only 
he could tell it. 

In 1887 he married the widow of E. W. Godwin, 
the architect of the "White House," and not long 
after they went to live in Paris, at 1 10 Rue du Bac. 

The narrow passage-way that leads from the street 
to where they lived is, like thousands of others in 
Old Paris, just an archway between two shops, un- 
promising and uninviting. 

Passing through, one finds a small paved court 
immediately in the rear, and on three sides of this 
court the entrances and windows of the apartments 
and houses opening therefrom. 

The court itself is not without interest. On one 


side there is an old bronze fountain, long since dry ; 
about the walls a sculptured frieze, much the worse 
for wear ; everything of by-gone days, — the very 
architecture, in all its details, of another generation. 

Whistler's entrance was on the ground floor, just 
across the little court. On a memorable day the 
bell was answered by a solemn-faced English ser- 
vant, — possibly more than ordinarily solemn-faced, 
because that particular morning he was in great dis- 
favor, and was subsequently discharged for a cumu- 
lation of shortcomings which would have exhausted 
the patience of an ordinary man thrice over. But 
Whistler — all impressions to the contrary, notwith- 
standing — was a man of infinite patience with sitter 
and servant, — the work of the latter being consider- 
ably lighter than that of the former. Under only 
the greatest provocation would he discharge either. 

Passing through the door, one went down several 
steps into the small hall, and through that into the 

This room was a revelation of the personality of 
the artist, — simple, dignified, harmonious ; it was 
restful and charming to the last degree. The details 
were so unobtrusive that it is difficult to recall par- 
ticular features. The floor was covered with a 
coarse, dark-blue matting ; the panelled walls were 
in pure white and blue, while the ceiling was in a 
light shade of blue. The room stood firmly on its 
feet, unlike so many in even the best of houses, 
which have floors so light and walls so dark that 
everything is topsy-turvy. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

Color seeks and finds its level ; light floors, with 
darker walls and ceilings, reverse the natural order 
of things, and compel people to live on their heads. 

The few pieces of furniture were of an old pat- 
tern, graceful almost to fragility, and covered with 
some light stuff which harmonized with the tone of 
the walls. 

There were but two pictures in the room, one at 
each end, both sketches by Whistler, "harmonies" 
or "arrangements" in color rather than composi- 
tions. The "key" being blue, the pictures blended 
with the walls, as all pictures should, as if part of the 
original scheme of decoration. 

When a visitor, who was fascinated by the color 
of these two studies, asked the painter if he would 
part with them, he said : 

" God bless me, no ! I am going to do some- 
thing big some day from those. Pretty, eh?" 

His studio was filled with just such " notes" and 
"jottings" of schemes in color and composition, 
and from each it was his intention to work out 
something more important and complete ; but such 
was the fertility of his imagination that no man 
could hope to carry even a fraction to finished con- 

Near the fireplace, at one end of the room, was a 
little old-fashioned table covered with writing-ma- 
terials, — paper of the smallest size, a dainty ink- 
stand, and several quill pens. This was the table 
of controversy, the battlefield of disputation, the 
veritable mount of irony, while the ink-well was 


the fountain of exquisite sarcasm, and the quill 
pens the scalpels which laid bare the vital recesses 
of unlucky opponents. 

It was the habit of the painter, in his idle mo- 
ments, to sit at this little table, with a small cup of 
coffee and a cigarette, and write those barbed and 
pointed notes which, like so many banderillas, irri- 
tated to frenzy the bulls they were aimed at. 

The far side of the room opened into one of 
those quaint old gardens so often found tucked away 
in the midst of crumbling buildings on the ancient 
thoroughfares. Its narrow confines were enlarged to 
the eye by winding, gravelled walks and vistas of 
flowers and bushes ; the rickety seats, half hidden 
by the foliage, invited the loiterer to repose, and the 
high wall beyond suggested the gloomy confines of 
some convent or deserted monastery. 

"A picturesque spot. Once at dusk there came 
the tinkle of a far-off bell, as if for vesper prayers ; 
the years rolled back, and visions of other days 
flitted along the garden paths ; stately dames in rich 
brocades, with powder, patch, and high coiffure, and 
gallant courtiers with graved and jewelled blades, 
whose whispered vows were no more stable than the 
sound of rustling leaves." 

Here of a Sunday afternoon Mrs. Whistler fre- 
quently served tea, and in this garden he made some 
of his best lithographs. 

At home Whistler was the most delightful of — 
guests. The cares of hospitality sat lightly upon 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

To the caller who had come at the appointed 
hour, and had waited for thirty or forty minutes, 
he would apologize so delightfully for the " unpar- 
donable delay," that a prince could take no offence, 
much less an ordinary visitor, who could profitably 
spend the time in studying the harmonious sur- 

It is difficult to describe the charm of his man- 
ner, so different from the notion of it that prevails 

He was far more easy of approach than most 
celebrities ; and once within the charmed circle, he 
was the most agreeable and companionable of 
living men. 

He would make the diffident feel instantly at 
ease, and he would exert himself to interest even 
the stupid visitor, but he would not encourage him 
to come again. 

His own talk was so bright that it was unneces- 
sary for any guest to say much, — a capacity for lis- 
tening appreciatively being the best qualification. 
Still, he did not monopolize the conversation. He 
himself was one of the keenest listeners that ever 
sat at a dinner-table ; nothing escaped him. And 
if by chance some one said a good thing, he was the 
first to applaud it. 

In company it was impossible to draw him into 
serious discussion. If the attempt were made, it 
usually led to a monologue on his part on some 
branch of the topic under discussion, — a monologue 
so extravagant, so funny, so irresistible in its humor 



and denunciation that the entire company would 
turn and listen with delight 

No one who has ever heard his comparison of the 
Englishman who carries his tub and sponge on the 
top of the coach to parade his cleanliness with the 
French who had vast public baths before England 
was discovered can ever forget the inimitable wit 
and humor and — underlying truth of it all. Again, 
his description of the Germans, — a people that call 
a glove a hand-shoe. Well, it is idle to even call to 
mind these things ; they will never be heard again, 
and no report could do them justice. 

A lady, after visiting him, said, " He is like no 
other human being ; a creature of moods and epi- 
grams, but perfectly delightful. I feel as if I'd been 
conversing with a flash of lightning in a brown 
velvet coat." 

No man could draw him out of malice afore- 
thought. It was fatal to say : 

"Mr. Whistler, do tell that story of the " 


Of that sort he was no story-teller at all, and if 
persistently urged, would close up like a clam ; but, 
if left to himself, he would take part in any conversa- 
tion that might be started, and would soon take the 
lead, not obviously or offensively, but naturally, and 
say things that would make the professed wit dumb 
with envy. He would say things he had said, or 
even printed, before, if the subject warranted it. 
He might even go a bit out of his way to drag in a 
good thing which he thought would fit ; but for the 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

most part his talk was the spontaneous utterance of 
the occasion. 

He was known to every "chef" and "maitre 
d' hotel" in London and Paris, — for, while he ate and 
drank most sparingly, he was exceedingly fastidious. 

He did not care greatly for the large caravansa- 
ries like the " Ritz," where people go to perform in 
public astounding gastronomic feats ; but he knew 
every place in Paris where a really good dish was to 
be had at a moderate price, and every such place 
gave him the best it had. 

Nearly every sketch, drawing, or portrait of Whist- 
ler gives some phase of his many-sided personality, 
but not one — not even those by himself — gives any- 
thing like an adequate conception. 

He was a man most difficult to place on canvas. 
He could not be grasped and held long enough. 
He himself tried it, but with only moderate success. 
Others have tried it and failed completely, — that is, 
failed to portray him at his best ; for that matter, 
no one who has ever drawn or painted him did so 
when he was at his best, for those moments came 
only in the seclusion of his own studio, when, alone 
with model or sitter, he worked absolutely oblivious 
to everything but his art. No man is at his best 
when posing for photograph, sketch, or portrait, and 
Whistler was farther from being an exception to 
this rule than most others. He knew too well what 
a portrait should be to feel the indifference which is 
essential to a perfectly natural pose. Consequently, 
15 225 


while few men were better known by sight in Paris 
and London, scarce any one knew him as he was, — 
the most profoundly serious, conscientious, and con- 
sistent artist of his day and generation. 

As has been stated, he was always exceedingly 
particular about his dress, — as finicky as a woman. 
In his early London days he carried a long, slender 
wand, like a mahl-stick, for a cane, and was conspic- 
uous wherever he went, not only on account of his 
diminutive size, but also by his stick and dress. 

An attendant at an exhibition once wished to re- 
lieve him of his cane, but he exclaimed : 

" Oh, no, my man ! I keep this for the critics." 

The following, by a London correspondent, is a 
very good description, though of late years he had 
abandoned the cane and his hair was somewhat 
grayer : 

"They say Whistler is fifty-six. But years have nothing 
to do with him. He is as young in spirit, as lithe in body, 
as dapper in ' get-up' as he was twenty years ago. 

"Is there another man in London with such vitality as 
Whistler has, — I care not what his age, — another so dainty, 
another so sprightly in wit ? Do you see that dapper gentle- 
man coming along Cheyne Walk, silk hat with very tall crown 
and very straight brim ; habit apparently broadcloth (frock 
coat), fitting to perfection a supple figure ; feet small as a 
girl's, — an American girl's ; hands delicately gloved in yellow; 
in the right hand a lithe, slim wand, twice as long as a walk- 
ing stick ; glass in eye ; black moustache and slight * imperial ;' 
black hair with wavy threads of gray here and there ? The 
dainty gentleman lifts his hat, and you see above his fore- 
head the slender, white lock — the white plume as famous as 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

that of Navarre. This is our friend Whistler, the inimitable, 
truly called ' the master. ' You may meet him in the early 
morning, or at a private view in the afternoon, at an evening 
party, two hours before midnight or two hours after it ; and 
you will find him as fresh in spirit, as dainty, as lively, as 
witty at one time as at another." 

Some one once gave him an American umbrella, — 
one of those that when rolled tightly are as small as 
walking-sticks. He was delighted with it, and used 
it as a cane. One day, coming out of the studio 
with a friend, and while hurrying to the cab-stand a 
few blocks away, it began to drizzle, and his friend, 
who had no umbrella, said : 

" Hurry and put up your umbrella or we'll get 
our hats wet." 

He fumbled a second at the umbrella, then hur- 
ried on. 

"But I would get my umbrella wet." 

It was commonly said Whistler was unapproach- 
able. In his studio, when at work, yes ; in his 
home, no. 

A note of introduction from any approved corre- 
spondent would almost invariably bring a favorable 
response. But not every correspondent was ap- 
proved ; or if so at one time, did not necessarily 
remain so indefinitely, and a note from the wrong — 
perhaps wronged — source was no commendation at 
all. On the whole, a frank application from a stranger 
for permission to call was quite as likely as not to 
prove successful, such a note in itself being a tribute. 



But at the studio it was very different He had 
no reception-days or hours, as many painters have. 
He had no use for the social rabble in his work- 

One warm afternoon, when hard at work, the bell 
rang. Brush in hand, he went to the outer door at 
the head of the six flights of steep, slippery oak stairs, 

and found there Mr. C , whom he knew, — a man 

who had little to do but bother others, — and Lady 

D , a distinguished and clever woman, both out 

of breath from their long climb. 

"Ah! my dear Mr. Whistler," drawled C , 

"I have taken the liberty of bringing Lady D 

to see you. I knew you would be delighted." 

"Delighted! I'm sure; quite beyond expression; 
but," — mysteriously, and holding the door so as to 

bar their entrance, — " my dear Lady D , I would 

never forgive our friend for bringing you up six 
flights of stairs on so hot a day to visit a studio at 
one of those — eh — pagan moments when" — and he 
glanced furtively behind him and still further closed 
the door — " it is absolutely impossible for a lady to 
be received. Upon my soul, I should never forgive 

And the lady looked daggers at her confused cav- 
alier, as Whistler bowed them down the six flights 
of oaken stairs and returned to resume work on the 
portrait of a very sedate old gentleman, who had 
taken advantage of the interruption to break for a 
moment the rigor of his pose. 

In those days and for many years the Paris studio 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

was at No. 86 Notre Dame des Champs. Whistler 
said one day, " Only the French have any taste in 
the naming of streets." 

The six steep flights of polished oak stairs no 
doubt shortened his life by many years. As long 
ago as 1894 he was accustomed to take a long rest 
on a settee at the head of the third flight, and again 
on reaching the top. Later he would have his 
luncheon served in the studio to avoid the fatigue 
of going down and coming back. He was by no 
means an old man, and looked the picture of health, 
cheeks ruddy, eye bright ; but he would get out of 
breath, and his heart gave him trouble, — startled him 
at times with its eccentricities and warnings. 

A blunt friend, frightened at seeing him one day 
almost collapse on reaching the studio, said : 

" I tell you, Whistler, those stairs will be the 
death of you ; and I'll be hanged if I am coming 
here any more with you, for you'll die on my hands, 
and that would get me into a nice mess. Why 
don't you have a studio on the ground floor?" 

"When I die— I will." 

But while casual callers met with scant courtesy 
at the studio, he was, as has already been noted, 
exceptionally cordial to all who were sincerely in- 
terested in his work, and would spend hours and 
hours of days that were precious in showing pictures 
to people who really could not understand them, — 
for that matter, who did understand them? — but 
who were honest in their expressions of approval, 



and this, too, with no thought of selling anything he 
had ; in fact, nothing chilled the enthusiasm of the 
moment so much as the suggestion of a purchase ; 
he became immediately a different being, and one by 
one his treasures would be turned to the wall. 

The studio was a large barn-like room at the very 
top of the high building. There was a small entry- 
way, which had a glass door opening out upon a 
balcony, high up over the street, and another door 
which opened into the studio proper. 

A huge skylight lighted this great attic, but only 
in part, for the room was too big to be well lighted 
from any one opening. 

The old oak floor was quite dark, and in places 
where he worked it was polished by use, for when 
entirely absorbed he had the habit of moving back 
and forth so quickly as to slide a pace or two. 

The tone of the studio was brown, not a deep or 
muddy brown, but a brown that seemed tinged with 

The base-board that stretched a narrow line about 
the big room was a deeper shade than the wall, and 
so nice were the gradations of tone, that floor, base- 
board, wall, and raftered ceiling blended together as 
one harmonious whole, all of which was the work 
of Whistler. 

The furniture amounted to nothing : a table near 
the far side, where he lunched, an old sofa against 
the wall under the skylight, two or three old French 
chairs, his easel and palette. There was a high 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

stove near the door, — one of those French complica- 
tions intended for the generation of a maximum of 
heat with a minimum consumption of precious coal. 
Like most labor-saving devices, it required some 
skill for its management, and Whistler was not a 

One cold day it was only too apparent the stove 
needed encouragement, and the sitter suggested 
that the damper be opened, — in fact, started to 
open it himself, when Whistler, greatly alarmed, 
exclaimed : 

" God bless me ! but you must not touch that ; the 
last time I meddled with it, the fire went out. There 
is only one man in Paris who understands that stove." 

"Well, where is he?" 

" Dear me, I discharged him to-day. How un- 

"Then, we must seize the stove by the horns and 
take our chances on the consequences." And throw- 
ing the damper wide open, there was soon a blazing 

For work outside, Whistler used a very small 
palette of the usual form ; in his studio he carried 
no palette whatsoever, but used in lieu thereof a 
rectangular table that resembled a writing-desk. 
The top sloped slightly ; at the left were tubes of 
colors, at the right one or two bowls containing oil 
and turpentine, with which the colors when mixed 
were reduced so thin that they would run on the 
sloping top of the table. 



He relied upon innumerable coats of thin color 
to secure the desired effect rather than upon one or 
two coats of greater consistency. This made the 
work long and tedious as compared with the modern 
mode of taking the pigments as they squirm from 
the tubes and pasting them while yet alive on the 
canvas ; but it has undoubtedly given his pictures a 
permanency and durability far beyond that of others. 

He seldom began to arrange his palette until the 
model or sitter was in pose ; and ten or fifteen min- 
utes were not infrequently spent in getting palette 
and brushes to suit him. To a model paid by the 
hour this delay was of no concern, but to the un- 
practised sitter, whose limit of endurance and pa- 
tience did not exceed an hour, the time spent in 
setting the palette seemed unduly long and alto- 
gether wasted. But all that was a part of the re- 
finement of Whistler's art. 

So susceptible was his color-sense that he could 
not mix colors to suit him unless canvas and sitter 
were before him precisely as they would be when he 
began to paint. The arrangement of the colors on 
the palette was but preliminary to placing those 
same colors on the canvas, therefore the sitter was 
as essential to the one process as the other. 

Once inside his studio, Whistler seemed to lose 
all the eccentricities of manner by which he was 
known to the world. He doffed his coat, substi- 
tuted for his monocle a pair of servicable spectacles, 
and was ready for work. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

If it were a full-length portrait, he placed the can- 
vas near his palette and his sitter in pose about 
four feet to the other side of the easel. For obser- 
vation he stood about twelve feet back towards 
the doorway, — very close, in fact, to the refractory 
stove. The light fell slanting on the right of the 
portrait and sitter, over the painter's left shoulder, 
and this light he would modify each day accord- 
ing to the amount of sunshine and the effect he 

He then selected two or three small brushes with 
handles about three feet in length, stood back about 
twelve feet, took a good look at both sitter and 
canvas, then stepping quickly forward, and, standing 
as far from the canvas as the long handles and his 
arms permitted, he began to rapidly sketch in the 
figure with long, firm strokes of the brush. The 
advantage of long handles was obvious, — they en- 
abled him to stand back quite a distance and sketch 
directly from his sitter. Except for this first sketch, 
he used ordinary brushes with ordinary handles. 

There was nothing eccentric or unusual in his 
methods or in what he worked with. Probably no 
painter in all Paris used simpler means to arrive at 
great results. It is quite likely that no other painter 
of to-day — judging entirely from appearances of 
modern canvases — could achieve any satisfactory 
results with materials so elemental. 

To make the sketch required possibly thirty min- 
utes. To the casual observer there was often more 
of a likeness in the first sketch than at any time 



after, — which simply goes to show the power of line 
devoid of color and also the easy task of the 

The sketch finished, the long-handled brushes 
were discarded and work began in earnest With 
one or more, sometimes a handful of brushes, — for 
they would accumulate without his realizing it, — he 
would again stand back and carefully scrutinize sitter 
and canvas until it seemed as if — and no doubt it 
was so — he transferred a visual impression of the 
subject to the canvas and fixed it there ready to be 
made permanent with line and color ; then quickly, 
often with a run and a slide, he rushed up to the 
canvas and, without glancing at his sitter, vigorously 
painted so long as his visual image lasted, then going 
back the full distance he took another look, and so 
on day after day to the end. 

In life-size work he seldom stood close to the 
canvas and painted direct from his sitter. 

He has laid down the proposition : 

" The one aim of the unsuspecting painter is to make his 
man ' stand out' from the frame, never doubting that, on the 
contrary, he should really, and in truth absolutely does, 
stand within the frame, and at a depth behind it equal to the 
distance at which the painter sees his model. The frame is, 
indeed, the window through which the painter looks at his 
model, and nothing could be more offensively inartistic than 
this brutal attempt to thrust the model on the hitherside of 
this window." 1 

1 Gentle Art, pp. 177, 178. 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

The number of sittings required varied greatly, 
and did not depend in any degree upon the size of 
the canvas. Sometimes he would paint a life-size 
figure with great rapidity ; again he would spend 
weeks and months on a very small picture. All de- 
pending upon conditions over which he had no 

He has devoted as many as ninety sittings to a 
portrait, only to pronounce it unfinished and unsatis- 

No work counted or was permitted to remain save 
that painted in what he called his " grand manner," 
which meant the work of those days and hours when 
everything — sitter, light, weather, spirits, mood, en- 
thusiasm — was just right, — a combination that might 
come several days in succession or but once in a 

He once said, " The portrait of my mother was 
painted in a few hours," meaning that the work of 
the last few hours was the work that really counted. 

It was interesting to watch a picture grow under 
the hands of Whistler. With most painters some- 
thing is finished from day to day, and in the course 
of ten or twelve sittings the portrait is complete. 
Not so with him. Nothing, not a detail, not even an 
infinitesimal section of the background was finished 
until the last. 

He worked with great rapidity and long hours, 
but he used his colors thin and covered the canvas 
with innumerable coats of paint. The colors in- 
creased in depth and intensity as the work pro- 



gressed. At first the entire figure was painted in 
grayish-brown tones, with very little of flesh color, 
the whole blending perfectly with the grayish-brown 
of the prepared canvas ; then the entire background 
would be intensified a little ; then the figure made 
a little stronger ; then the background, and so on 
from day to day and week to week, and often from 
month to month, to the exhaustion of the sitter, but 
the perfection of the work, if the sitter remained 
patient and continued in favor. 

At no time did he permit the figure to get away 
from or out of the background ; at no time did he 
permit the background to oppress the figure, but 
the development of both was even and harmonious, 
with neither discord nor undue contrast. 

And so the portrait would really grow, really 
develop as an entirety, very much as a negative 
under the action of the chemicals comes out gradu- 
ally — lights, shadows, and all from the first faint 
indications to their full values. 

It was as if the portrait were hidden within the 
canvas and the master by passing his wands day 
after day over the surface evoked the image. 

Most painters can take a canvas and begin at 
once with the colors of the finished picture, making 
each stroke count from the very first, often, if the 
canvas has been prepared, doing little or nothing to 
the background. Whistler himself would some- 
times let the prepared canvas show, all the resources 
of his art he understood, but if he did, the picture 
was simply a sketch. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

In a very profound sense Whistler's work from 
the very beginning was always finished, — finished 
in the sense that any growing thing is perfect from 
day to day. The plant may be but a tender shoot 
just appearing above the ground, or it may be in 
full leaf, or in gorgeous blossom, but it is finished, 
it is perfect by day and night In that sense were 
Whistler's paintings finished. If they were sketches, 
then the slight amount of color used was precisely 
the amount the sketch required. At no time was 
the sense of proportion outraged by carrying line 
or color or likeness beyond the symmetrical develop- 
ment of the three. 

One must not be understood as saying that all 
his pictures are of equal merit, — perfection does not 
necessarily mean that ; nor that he did not do many 
things he considered failures. 

Few painters ever destroyed more work, no 
painter was ever more critical of his own work. 
But, in spite of all he could do, things would get out 
into the world that he wished destroyed. This was 
due in part to the facility with which he made 
sketches and the enthusiasm with which he would 
begin new things, many of which never got on. 
Now and then some of these unfinished things — 
unfinished from the first stroke, because never quite 
satisfactory to him — would escape his studio. 

Artists express very positive opinions regarding 
the merits of his pictures, placing some with the 
best the world has done, others as quite unworthy 



the master. As no two painters agree which are 
the best and which are the least worthy, the layman 
is helpless. In truth, only Whistler himself could 
have pointed out all the qualities and defects, and 
this he never did. If pressed for an opinion or a 
preference, he would evade the question, or by deftly 
speaking of this or that quality of the works under 
discussion would leave his hearers with the im- 
pression they knew all about the matter, when in 
reality they were no wiser than before. He simply 
did not care to discuss his work intimately with 
the lay or the professional mind. What he saw 
was beyond their comprehension, or if not beyond 
their comprehension, then they saw it without fur- 
ther words from him, for did not the picture speak 
plainly for itself? 

Contrary to general impression, he was patience 
itself in his studio. A sitter who was with him 
every day for nearly six weeks never heard him 
utter an impatient word ; on the contrary, he was 
all kindness. He would permit his sitter to bring 
friends to the studio, and he would listen to all the 
foolish suggestions that could occur to a tired and 
impatient man. 

Sometimes he would rebuke a too-insistent sitter, 
as the following anecdotes show, if true : 

It is said that one man annoyed him by saying at 
the end of each sitting : 

"How about that ear, Mr. Whistler? Don't 
forget to finish that !" 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

At the last sitting, everything being done except 
this ear, Whistler said : 

"Well, I think I am through. Now I'll sign it." 
Which he did in a very solemn, important manner, 
as was his way. 

"But my ear, Mr. Whistler! You aren't going 
to leave it that way?" 

" Oh, you can put it in after you get home." 

He was once painting the portrait of a distin- 
guished novelist, who, though extremely clever, was 
not blessed with the fatal gift of .beauty. When 
the portrait was finished, the sitter did not seem 
satisfied with it. 

"Don't you like it?" inquired Whistler. 

"No ; can't say I do. But," in self justification, 
"you must admit that it is a bad work of art." 

"Yes," Whistler replied ; "but I think you must 
admit that you are a bad work of nature." 

The truth is, he would listen to every suggestion 
made by the sitter, model, or even casual visitor, if 
one were admitted. 

A sitter once said to him : 

" Mr. Whistler, isn't there something wrong about 
the right eye?" 

Instantly alert, he said : 

"What's that you say? Um — um — right eye ' ' 

And he carefully examined the canvas. "We'll have 
a look at that. Suppose you stand for just a moment 
— just a moment." And he paid as much heed as 
if the criticism had come from competent sources. 

Mrs. Whistler would now and then come to the 


studio, and he would eagerly ask her opinion of the 
progress made ; and her suggestions were always 
followed. For her ability as an artist — for her own 
pleasure, rather than for profit — and as a critic of 
his work he had the highest opinion. Her sug- 
gestions were ever to the point, and under her in- 
fluence a work always made rapid headway. It was 
an irreparable loss when she died in 1897, an d he 
was never again quite so light-hearted. For a long 
time he kept the apartments at 1 10 Rue du Bac, but 
did not live there. 

His will expressed his devotion to her memory 
and belief in her art, — 

' ' I bequeath my wife' s entire collection of garnets rare 
and beautiful, together with sprays, pendants, etc., of the 
same style of work or setting in white stones, brilliants, or 
old paste, our entire collection of beautiful old silver and 
plate, and the complete collection of old china, to the Louvre. 
This bequest is on condition that the three collections be 
gathered together in one and displayed as the ' Beatrix 
Whistler Collection.' Also that in it or appropriately in the 
same room shall be hung proofs of my wife's exquisite etch- 
ings, of which I leave a list attached to my will signed 
by me." 

By a codicil dated May 7, 1 903, he revoked the 
bequest to the Louvre, but he expressed a desire 
that, in the event of his residuary legatee retain- 
ing the collection of garnets during her life, she 
would bequeath them to the Louvre upon her death. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

He was unsparing of his sitters only in this one 
respect, — he would become so absorbed in his work 
as to completely forget them, and they would col- 
lapse with fatigue. Sometimes he would notice by 
their pallor the faintness which was overcoming 
them, and instantly, all solicitude, he would have 
them rest, or go out on the balcony for fresh air ; 
but he himself never sat down. While they were 
resting he would walk back and forth, looking at the 
canvas, but rarely touching it, and talking to him- 
self, — now and then, but not often, taking the sitter 
into his confidence. The moment the sitter was 
rested he would begin working again like one pos- 

By close observation it could be seen that the 
best work was usually done during the first long 
pose, or in the last hour of the afternoon, when the 
shadows were deepening ; and the wise sitter would 
humor this trait and pose his longest and best in 
those two hours. 

To the unaccustomed a half-hour standing — with- 
out moving so much as to disturb a line of the gar- 
ments — is a long pose. But with practice — and with 
Whistler one had practice — an hour and a half with- 
out moving a muscle is not impossible. 

Every portrait Whistler ever began he expected 
to make his masterpiece. That is the way he started 
in with any work. It was to be the best thing he 
ever did ; and so long as the enthusiasm lasted he 
would walk up and down the studio talking half to 
himself half to his sitter : 
16 241 


" We will just go right on as we have begun, and 
it will be fine, — perhaps the finest thing I have ever 

"Not as good as the portrait of your mother?" 
— the inevitable question. 

" Perhaps ; who knows ? Possibly finer in a way ; 
for this, you know, is different. We'll make a big 
thing of it." And so on for days and weeks, until 
something would occur, — possibly weariness on the 
part of the sitter ; possibly failure to keep appoint- 
ments on days when the painter felt like doing his 
best ; possibly too great anxiety to see the picture 
finished, — and the painter's enthusiasm would sub- 
side, and the portrait would turn out not so great 
after all. 

After the first few days he would place the canvas 
in its frame, and thereafter paint with it so. And 
his frames were designed by himself. All who have 
seen his pictures know them, — just simple, dignified 
lines, with no contortions of wood and gilt. 

When a sitter was of congenial spirit and com- 
placent mood they would lunch in the studio, and 
he would paint all day, from eleven in the morning 
until — well, until it was so dark that all was dim 
and shadowy and ghostly ; and then together both 
would take their leave, always turning at the door 
for a last look at the canvas looming mysterious in 
the darkness ; then grope their way down the wind- 
ing oaken stairs, later to dine together at some un- 
frequented place where the proprietor watched the 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

fire himself and had stored away in musty depths a 
few — just a few — relics of memorable vintages. 

" O my friends, when I am sped, appoint a meeting ; and 
when ye have met together, be ye glad thereof ; and when 
the cup-bearer holds in her hand a flagon of old wine, then 
think of old Khayyam and drink to his memory." 

In a glass of ruby Margaux of the vintage of 
'58, the last of its dusty bin, I drink to the memory 
of those glorious days when the vacant canvas as- 
sumed the hues of life and grew beneath the touch ; 
and those fragrant nights when, with stately cere- 
mony, the cob-webbed bottle came forth from its 
bed of long repose to subdue fatigue, banish all 
care, and leave but the thought of the beautiful. — 
Behold, far soul, the empty glass ! 




Portrait -Painting — How he Differed from his 
Great Predecessors — The "Likeness" — Compo- 
sition of Color — No Commercial Side — Baronet 
vs. Butterfly. 

Whistler was not a "portrait-painter," as the 
phrase goes nowadays ; but he was, in certain re- 
spects, the greatest painter of portraits the world 
has known. 

As a "portrait-painter" he fell far short of Rem- 
brandt, Velasquez, and a host of lesser men ; but 
as a painter of portraits he rose superior to them 
all in certain refinements of the art. 

There is a vast difference between the " portrait- 
painter" to whom the sitter is of first importance 
and the painter to whom his art is of first impor- 
tance. The difference lies in the attitude of the 
artist towards his canvas, towards the work he is 
about to undertake. Is the inspiration wholly his 
own, or is he influenced by considerations quite 
foreign to the production of a pure work of art? 

The attitude of the "portrait-painter" may be 
likened unto that of the "poet laureate," whose 
verse is at the command of conditions he does not 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

control ; who may, by accident, write a good thing, — 
but the rule is otherwise, with even the best. 

To rightly place a human being on canvas, or in 
stone, or in marble, or in poetry, is the noblest 
achievement of art On the technical side it ex- 
hausts the resources of the art ; on the spiritual side 
it exhausts the genius of the artist. But " portrait- 
painting" as a profession, as an industrial and a 
commercial proposition, is a degradation of art. It 
is in strict accord with the spirit of the age ; it is a 
natural and an inevitable evolution. But it is, never- 
theless, a degradation, — for wherein does the shop- 
like atelier of the professional "portrait-painter" 
differ from the emporium and the bazaar of com- 
merce ? And wherein do the methods of the shrewd 
and successful painter differ from those of the suc- 
cessful merchant ? Are not the doors of the studio 
open to every comer with a purse ? Are not the 
prices fixed at so much per square yard of canvas ? 
Is not the patronage of celebrities sought, regardless 
of artistic possibilities, for the prestige it gives? 
Are not the A. R. A. and the R. A., and all the 
degrees and decorations, sought, like the " By spe- 
cial appointment to H. M. — " of the tradesman, for 
the money there is in them? 

But what need to enumerate the motives that 
move the professional "portrait-painter," — they are 
written on his every canvas. 

Sculpture still clings to its ideals, and the " bust- 
maker" is a term of reproach. No sculptor with 



any ambition whatsoever, with any love for his art, 
would willingly look forward to a career of portrait 
bust-making. Dire necessity may compel him, and 
year after year he may make the marble and bronze 
effigies of local celebrities ; but the yoke galls, the 
task wearies, and he looks forward to the time when, 
emancipated from his thraldom, he may do some- 
thing of his own. 

Not so the " portrait-painter." He glories in his 
degradation ; paints a score of huge, staring can- 
vases, blatant likenesses of blatant people, and, be- 
fore the paint is dry, parades them in exhibition as his 
latest galaxy of masterpieces, — not that his art may 
be magnified, but that his trade may be advertised. 

The sculptor is only too glad if his bronze effi- 
gies are hidden in leafy thickets, in parks, and 
out-of-the-way places. He has not learned the com- 
mercial value of exhibitions. He does not every 
few months place on view a lot of marbles and 
bronzes, the work of as many weeks. He has not 
caught from the shop-keeper the trick of display- 
ing his wares in a window. But the " portrait- 
painter" ! 

"Portrait-painting" pays, — that is the worst of it 
all. It is the one branch of the art of painting that 
can be followed as methodically as the making of 
clothes. It is, for that matter, closely allied to and 
quite dependent upon the tailor and the dressmaker. 
Worth made more portraits than any painter of the 
day in Paris. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

The "portrait-painter" must dress his manikin in 
clothes that will " paint," for the manikin is worse 
than nothing for the picture. There must be a 
gown of brilliant stuffs, and either a hat or the 
hair-dresser, — who also has made and unmade 
portraits, — or there must be a uniform, hunting- 
breeches, judge's gown and wig, accordingly as the 
manikin is woman or man ; and it is the theatrical 
trappings that are painted, and, incidentally thereto, 
— manikin. 

Reynolds painted something like two thousand 
canvases. In 1758 one hundred and fifty persons 
sat to him, — an average of three portraits a week. 
He was as methodical as an automatic machine. 
Rose early, breakfasted at nine, was in the studio at 
ten, worked by himself until eleven, when his first 
sitter of the day would appear, to be succeeded by 
another precisely one hour later, and so on, a sitter 
an hour, until four o'clock, when the popular painter 
made himself ready for a plunge in the social swirl. 

Portraits produced under such conditions cannot 
be made more than technically brilliant, — superficial 
likenesses of the great majority of the sitters, — and 
are unworthy the painter's art. 

After a brief study of their careers, and without 
seeing a portrait by either, one would be warranted 
in looking for a masterpiece among Gainsborough's 
two hundred and twenty portraits rather than among 
the two thousand canvases of Reynolds. 

Great facility of execution is not necessarily a 


condemnatory feature of a man's art, but it is a 
dangerous feature, and with most men it is a fatal 

The hand of the master must be entirely subser- 
vient to the brain. No obstacle should intervene 
between the inspiration and its complete expression, 
but the hand must not force the imagination ; and 
it is true that command of technic — mere digital 
dexterity — does lead the performer, whether painter 
or musician, to speak when he has nothing to say. 

Happily for the reputation of Reynolds, he painted 
now and then a portrait in which he took more 
interest, and these have some — possibly not many 
— of the qualities that live. For the most part his 
reputation rests on mere volume of brilliant and 
high-grade work, — very much as one factory has a 
greater reputation than another. And he did more 
than any man who ever lived to reduce " portrait- 
painting" to a trade, a mechanical pursuit. 

In the modern sense of the phrase, he was one 
of the greatest of " portrait-painters ;" certainly the 
most "successful" — again in the modern sense — 
the world has known, of talent supreme, in genius 

But there are portraits and portraits, — to illus- 
trate : 

There are portraits. 

There are portraits that are also pictures. 
There are pictures that are also portraits. 
There are pictures. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

The first-named are mere likenesses, — photo- 
graphs on canvas. This sort is very common and 
very popular ; they are made with great facility 
by the professional " portrait- painters" and they are 
greatly applauded wherever seen. They have their 
fixed prices, — so much for half, three-quarters, or 
full-length, — and they are quite a matter of com- 
merce, with a maximum of dexterity and a minimum 
of art. There are those who can and do paint great 
portraits, who turn out endless numbers of these 
mechanically-made things to the detriment of their 
art. Of the best of this sort were the most of 
Reynolds's portraits, — superficially brilliant and at- 
tractive likenesses that ought not to be seen outside 
the family circle for which they were intended. Of 
this same sort are most of those startling people who 
issue from the studios of the popular " portrait- 
painters" of to-day, to thrust the nonentity of their 
individualities upon us. The identity of the " Blue- 
Boy," by Gainesborough, is quite immaterial ; the 
identity of the "Shrimp-Girl," by Hogarth, is like- 
wise immaterial ; the identity of the " Child with a 
Sword," by Manet, is of no importance, — for these 
are pictures, though at the same time portraits. 

But the identity of the " portraits" by the popu- 
lar "portrait-painter" is, in ninety-nine instances 
out of a hundred, a matter of great importance, the 
value of the canvas being enhanced by the celebrity 
or notoriety of the sitter. 

The mere portrait is better than no portrait at 
all, but it should be a fixture in its own household, a 



family heirloom, and strictly entailed ; descendants 
failing, then to the midden. 

Between the mere portrait and the portrait that 
possesses some of the universal qualities of a work 
of art the interval is wide, and almost one of kind 
rather than degree, though no line of strict demar- 
cation can be drawn ; while, as between the paint- 
ing that is primarily a portrait, with incidental uni- 
versal qualities, and a painting that is primarily a 
work of art, and incidentally a portrait, the difference 
is entirely a matter of degree. 

In, for instance, the " Blue-Boy" the portrait ele- 
ment predominates; in the " Shrimp-Girl" the uni- 
versal element predominates. In the former, the 
portrait was uppermost in the painter's mind ; in 
the other, the picture was the only consideration. 
And yet Hogarth's is undoubtedly the more perfect 
portrait, though slight and sketchy as compared with 
the composition and finish of the Gainsborough. 

In fact, the "Shrimp-Girl," as an abstract work 
of art, is a degree higher than the picture-portrait. 
It is a picture, — a work of art in the doing of which 
no considerations other than the artistic intention 
moved the painter. 

A mere portrait, in the dash and brilliancy of its 
execution or the decorative quality of its color, may 
be better than a picture of indifferent execution or 
poor color ; the one may be worth keeping in a 
limited circle, or even of some use decoratively in a 
more general way, while the other is not worth pre- 
serving at all. But there is hope for the man who 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

attempts to paint a picture, to produce a work of 
art, though he fails miserably ; whereas there is no 
hope for the brilliant technician whose sole ambition 
is to paint and sell his canvas photographs as rap- 
idly as possible. 

Manet's " Child with a Sword" is a superb por- 
trait of a child, — a model, to be sure, but none the 
less a little human being, with as many attributes of 
life and humanity as the child whose parents pay 
the price of a likeness. Manet's chief merit lies in 
the fact that all his life long he tried to paint pictures, 
sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully ; 
never with any profound insight into human nature 
or life, but always straightforwardly and sincerely, 
and with a strong, firm hand. He painted many 
portraits of his sister and his friends, but invariably 
with the intention to do something of more universal 
validity than a likeness. 

The casual visitor to the Louvre may examine at 
his leisure the little " Infanta" and the " Mona Lisa," 
both great pictures, both great portraits, but of the 
two the portrait element is rather more pronounced 
in the Velasquez than in the Leonardo. 

The little " Infanta" is there for all time on the 
canvas, precisely as she was in the painter's studio, 
a wonderful portrait of a child, a wonderful picture 
of a bit of humanity, but less of a type than an in- 

As for the "Mona Lisa," who can doubt that in 
the long years the painter worked on this portrait 
all superficial resemblances and characteristics dis- 



appeared until the constant, the elemental, the soul 
alone remained ? It possesses many of the qualities 
of the idealized madonnas of Italian religious art. 
It began with the painter's admiration of a beautiful 
woman, an individual of that day and generation ; it 
ended with an ideal which will last so long as the 
slowly-darkening pigments retain line and linea- 

The mere adding of accessories in the way of 
composition or background or the adoption of a 
classic or theatrical pose may make the work more 
decorative, but it does not enhance the real merit 
of the portrait, the status of which cannot be altered 
by the surrounding canvas. 

When Mrs. Siddons entered Reynolds's studio, he 
said, as he conducted her to the raised platform : 

" Take your seat upon the throne for which you 
were born, and suggest to me the idea of the ' Tragic 
Muse.' " 

" I made a few steps," relates the actress, " and 
then took at once the attitude in which the * Tragic 
Muse' has remained." 

When the portrait was finished, Sir Joshua said : 

" I cannot lose this opportunity of sending my 
name to posterity on the hem of your garment," and 
he placed his signature on the border of the gown. 

All of which are the conditions under which the- 
atrical and meritricious art is produced. The por- 
trait of a woman posing as the "Tragic Muse" may 
turn out well, but the chances are otherwise. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

There are "portrait-painters" who are better than 
others, and the best of all were Rembrandt and 
Velasquez, the latter the greatest portrait-painter 
who ever lived, — so great that his portraits are great 
as pictures ; but not quite in the abstract sense that 
a painting by Raphael is a picture, — a bright and 
beautiful song in line and color ; not quite in the 
sense that a painting by Angelo is a picture, — the 
tumultuous outpouring of a human soul ; not quite 
in the subtle sense that a painting by Whistler is a 
picture, — a harmony to delight the eye as music 
delights the ear. 

Rembrandt and Velasquez were great in technical 
directions in their portraiture, and their achieve- 
ments remain unchallenged ; but in the painting of 
portraits each was something of the " portrait- 
painter," — not the facile, commercial painter of to- 
day, but they painted portraits to earn their living. 
Now and then the portrait was a labor of love and 
a great picture, seldom — at least in the case of 
Velasquez — a matter of drudgery, and therefore a 

Velasquez was so happily situated in the court at 
Madrid, of the king's household, on friendly terms 
with the royal family, that he painted their portraits 
with far more devotion and interest than he could 
possibly feel towards a stranger. 

A portrait of Philip the Fourth by Velasquez 
ought to be as good a work of art as a bust of 
Pericles by Phidias, — and that is about the most 
that can be said in portraiture, — but a bust of 



Pericles would not be the best that the art of 
Phidias could do, for his art was not limited by 

Wherein the art of Whistler differed from the art 
of Rembrandt and Velasquez in the painting of 
human likenesses is as follows : 

With Whistler the sitter, whether model or patron, 
was subordinated to the composition, to the har- 
mony of line and color, — was simply an integral part 
of the larger scheme in the painter's mind. 

With Rembrandt and Velasquez the sitter was 
the important feature, everything else being quite 
casual ; the object in mind being to paint a great 
portrait, to put a human being on canvas. A worthy 
object when worthily done, but not quite so pure 
and subtle and abstract, not quite so free from limi- 
tations of time and place and person as the intention 
to do something of universal validity in which the 
individual shall not obtrude beyond his due measure 
of importance. 

In the attempt to do things that had never been 
done before, in the attempt to make painting as pure 
an art as music and poetry, Whistler possibly made 
many failures, or rather many more or less incom- 
plete successes, but in his best things it is undeniably 
true that he produced pictures wherein the portrait 
element was as subtly if not as " strongly" developed 
as in anything ever before painted, and wherein at 
the same time that element was successfully sub- 
ordinated to ideals more refined and universal. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

Both Rembrandt and Velasquez did "stronger" 
things than Whistler, — that is to say, they placed 
their subjects more positively and forcefully on the 
canvas, so that they stand out more aggressively, and 
fill not only their frames but the room ; they do 
not obtrude, but they are great big characterizations 
which make themselves felt in any company. 

Whistler's portraits, like all his pictures, retire 
within their frames, do not assert themselves, are not 
"strong," as the term is quite legitimately used in 
the sense of powerful, positive, and vigorous. His 
portraits are neither "stunning" nor overwhelming; 
they are so quiet, restful, and harmonious as to 
almost escape notice. There is a wraith-like qual- 
ity about some of them that has often been noted ; 
some of them seem the portraits of shadows rather 
than realities. 

A woman standing before "The Fur Jacket" said : 
" So that is a portrait of a woman by Whistler?" 
"No," replied her companion; "it is Whistler's 
impression of a woman." 

Neither was right, — for, as a matter of fact, it is 
simply a composition of line and color wherein a 
woman — in this case a model — is the central figure 
of the arrangement. The painting of a likeness 
was not in Whistler's mind at all. The painting of 
a woman, either as a type or an individual, probably 
did not enter his head ; but he had in mind a scheme 
which pleased him, and this scheme he placed on 
canvas. It is quite likely the woman happened to 
enter his studio, and the effect of figure, costume, 



and environment caught his fancy. That was the 
way many of the portraits were begun. 

Lady Archibald Campbell was nothing to him 
except a possibility ; she was to him as a theme, as 
a motive to a musician. At the outset he had all 
sorts of trouble with the picture ; and it was not 
until one day Lady Campbell happened to come in 
with her fur cape over her shoulders that he made 
a new start and painted the picture. It is a great 
portrait, one of his very best, a haunting likeness of a 
woman ; not such a photographic likeness as friends 
and relatives demand, but just the likeness that 
posterity demands : a woman, a type, with all the 
charm, all the refinement, all the real, the true, the 
elusive qualities of a woman, — in short, those quali- 
ties of mind and body which reappear in descend- 
ants of the third and fourth generation and demon- 
strate the faithfulness of the portrait. 

There is no portrait by Rembrandt or Velasquez 
which at all resembles Whistler's portrait of his 

It is not at all like anything by Rembrandt ; 
there is a hint of the blacks and grays of Velasquez, 
but that is a superficial observation made by every 
passing tourist. 

In scheme, composition, intention, and execution 
the picture is essentially different from anything the 
great Spanish painter ever did. One ought to 
recognize the fundamental difference between the 
two artists on looking at the little " Infanta" in the 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

Louvre, — there is no need to go farther. Velasquez 
had a firm strong grasp of life about him which 
Whistler lacked. The one was a man among men, 
the other a poet among poets, a musician among 
musicians, a dreamer among dreamers ; the one 
painted men, women, and children because they 
interested him, the other painted them because he 
was interested in beautiful things ; the one viewed 
the world by day with his feet planted firmly on the 
ground, the other viewed it by dusk and by night 
with his head in the mist and clouds. 

There was the same difference between Velasquez 
and Whistler that there is between two poets, one 
of whom — like, say, Byron — deals with life with a 
sure hand, the other — like Keats — deals with beauty 
as the finest thing in life. 

In poetry even the casual reader does not con- 
found men of opposite temperaments, though both 
use the medium of verse to express their thoughts ; 
but in painting, people habitually confuse men who 
have absolutely nothing in common except the me- 
dium they use. And yet for every poet there is 
somewhere a painter of like moods and temper- 
ament. Men do not differ, though some use poetry, 
some music, some sculpture, some painting to ex- 
press their fancies and convictions. 

Were one so disposed, it would not be difficult to 
point out the Browning, the Tennyson, the Whitman, 
the Bach, the Beethoven, the Wagner of painting, 
for the human soul is the same in every art. 

17 257 


Beyond the fact, therefore, that Velasquez and 
Whistler both expressed themselves by means of 
painting, they were not at all alike, and their work 
must reflect their fundamental differences. 

Whistler, in susceptibility to color and fleeting 
line, in love for abstract, almost ethereal beauty, 
was akin to the choice spirits of the far East He 
found more that appealed to him and affected him 
in the blue-and-white porcelain of China than in 
any painting from Madrid. Velasquez might give 
him many valuable hints as to the use of color, as 
to the practice of his art, but no suggestions what- 
soever as to ends and aims. These motives he 
found in the East, in those wonderful lands where 
men, leaving nature far behind, almost touched 
heaven in their philosophies, and did seize some of 
heaven's infinite blues and silvery grays in their arts. 

It is idle to compare Whistler's portraits with 
those of any other man, for the qualities that make 
those of others great are not found accentuated in 
his, and the qualities that make his great are not 
found refined in those of others. 

The matter of likeness, which troubles most peo- 
ple, is of vital importance to the "portrait-painter," 
since it is his sole excuse, the only justification he 
has for existing, but to art it does not matter at 

Likeness has no objective existence. It is en- 
tirely a matter of impression, a subjective realiza- 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

tion. Beyond the size of the mouth, the shape of 
the nose, the color of the eyes there is little to 
what is called a " likeness." A person never looks 
the same to different people or on different occa- 

To the casual acquaintance a " likeness" is but 
skin deep ; to the friend of a lifetime it is alto- 
gether a matter of character. A portrait that 
satisfies a wife fails to please a mother, and one that 
provokes the applause of the passing throng is a 
disappointment to the family. 

For what is one man's appearance to another but 
the impact of personality upon personality, the 
coming together of two vitalities clothed in flesh 
and blood. But some there are who see only the 
clothes of another, — the very outward shell and 
husk ; others who see only the flesh and blood, — 
the physical covering ; others who get at the man 
and know him in part as he is. For whom shall the 
portrait be painted, — for those who see, or those 
who know, or those who love? And by whom 
shall the portrait be painted, — by the tailor-painter 
or by the soul-painter? 

The world is filled with painters of the super- 
ficial, with painters of husks ; and those are the 
painters who impress the multitude, for they see 
what the multitude see, and there is no mystery to 
puzzle, but everything is superficial and plain. 

A likeness is the physical semblance of the soul ; 
and the only likeness worth having on canvas or in 



marble or in words is the faithful transcript of the 
impression the sitter makes on the artist 

From the fact that this impression changes and 
deepens from hour to hour, and day to day, and 
week to week, as the two beings come to know each 
other, it follows that the best portrait can only be 
painted after sufficient acquaintance for the dissipa- 
tion of those superficial traits and characteristics 
which envelop everyone like a fog. 

It is the special province of caricature to seize 
upon a man's superficialities and peculiarities, and 
make the most or the worst of them ; but it is the 
business of portraiture to get beneath and give a 
glimpse, an impression of the true man. 

To this end Whistler's many and long sittings 
were of inestimable service. The portrait grew 
with his acqaintance with his sitter. What first 
pleased him as a scheme of color and an agreeable 
personality came in time to interest him as a human 
being, with the result in the most successful can- 
vases that the picture would be all he desired as a 
harmony, as a song without sound, and also a mar- 
vellously subtle realization of his impression of the 
human being he had learned to know. 

In one respect the identity of a portrait is not a 
matter of entire indifference, for the attitude of the 
painter is more or less affected by his relation to the 
sitter, and whatever affects him affects his work. 

Many an artist does his best when his wife or 
child or some one he loves is the model ; and the 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

man who could not paint his mother a little better, 
a little more sympathetically than a stranger would 
be soulless indeed. In poetry the influence of a 
mistress is a matter of tradition. 

The picture, as a work of art, must be judged in- 
dependently of its associations. It stands by itself, 
and is good, bad, or indifferent, regardless of the 
painter or the conditions under which it was done ; 
but some of its excellencies may be explained if we 
learn it was a labor of love. 

It would not add a feather's weight to the superb 
qualitities of the " Hermes," at Olympia, if it were 
discovered to be a likeness of the sculptor's son ; 
nor would it detract in the slightest degree from its 
perfection if it were found to have been the work 
of an unknown man, and not by Praxiteles, — 
though in the latter case there would be a great 
abatement of enthusiasm on the part of the touring 
public. But if a number of the master's works 
were in existence, and it was perceived that the 
" Hermes" possessed certain qualities of tenderness, 
certain indefinable elements of superiority that 
made it the masterpiece, the knowledge that some 
one whom the sculptor loved dearly had posed 
would help to explain the almost imperceptible dif- 
ferences. The work would stand on its own merits ; 
but one of the reasons why it stood so high would 
be found in the relationship between sculptor and 

By many who should be qualified to speak Whist- 
ler's portrait of his mother is considered his master- 



piece, possibly by some because it is of his mother, 
but by others quite independently of the relation- 

Others there are who consider the portrait of 
Carlyle his masterpiece, possibly because it is of 
Carlyle, but by some independently of the identity 
of the sitter. 

Seldom is the portrait of any unknown or less 
known sitter mentioned in comparison, — all of which 
goes to show the bias which results from knowing 
the identity. 

Every Scotchman would insist upon the Carlyle, 
most of them quite unconscious of the patriotic 

There are pictures far more subtle in color, more 
" Whistlerian" in effect, more distinctively the crea- 
tions of a great poet in color than these two por- 
traits, but as compared with any two, or even three, 
or, possibly, four others, the preservation of these 
are of vital importance to the fame of the artist and 
the advancement of art. In this sense they may be 
considered his masterpieces, and of the two the one 
that hangs in the Luxembourg is far the finer. It 
is one of the few pictures that leave nothing to be 
said by painter or layman. 

It is more than a portrait, — it is a large composi- 
tion of line and form and color ; it is a great portrait 
made subordinate to a great picture. 

Whistler was seldom so satisfied with a portrait 
that he was willing to part with it. He could always 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

see things he wished to change, — partly, no doubt, 
because his impression of his subject changed from 
day to day, — and he would often keep a portrait by 
him for months and years before exhibiting. In 
fact he exhibited a like reserve about nearly all his 
work. It was next to impossible to get anything 
from him for current exhibitions. 

He would faithfully and with the best of intentions 
promise to have something ready. The time would 
come, and he would be found still at work on the 
canvas as leisurely as if so many centuries were 
before him instead of so many hours. Nothing 
ever induced him to either hasten his work or ex- 
hibit it unfinished. The fact that he might not 
be represented gave him not the slightest uneasi- 
ness. The result was that the Whistlers seen were 
generally old Whistlers, — all the better for that. 
For instance, of the pictures exhibited at the World's 
Columbian Exposition, not one had been painted 
within ten or fifteen years, — two dated as far back 
as 1864. 

At the Antwerp Exhibition, a year later, there was 
certainly not a picture painted within ten years. By 
this method the artist had the advantage of his own 
mature judgment and the assistance of time, — and 
time wields a great brush. There is no glaze, 
no finish, no varnish equal to that dispensed so 
evenly, so mellowly, so softly, so beautifully by time. 
Furthermore, there is no judgment so sound, no 
criticism so penetrating as the judgment and criti- 
cism of the artist himself on his own work after the 



enthusiasm of the hour has worn off. One of the 
finest indications of Whistler's greatness was this 
reserve in the exhibition of new work, this ability to 
do fine things and quietly put them away out of 
sight, until with lapse of time they could be looked 
over dispassionately, repainted if necessary, and 
either banished forever or exhibited in all their 

Most artists delight in seeing exhibited imme- 
diately — often prematurely — the things they do, 
and the delight is not unnatural. Others there are 
who, on account of numerous disappointments or 
from queer crotchets, are opposed altogether to ex- 
hibitions. Whistler was not of the latter class ; he 
was quite human enough to enjoy, as he himself 
said, the honors which come from well-conducted 
exhibitions. He was an officer of the Legion of 
Honor, had received awards and honors without 
number, including the extraordinary award of the 
gold medal for etching and also for painting at the 
Paris Exposition of 1900, and an honorary degree 
from a Scotch University. These honors sat lightly, 
but by no means uneasily, upon him. 

His unwillingness to part with work led to no end 
of trouble and misunderstanding. People could 
not understand why they should not have what they 
had bargained and often paid for, why there should 
be any delay whatsoever, much less why after many 
demands their money should be returned and the 
picture kept by the artist. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

All this is, of course, diametrically opposed to the 
rules of commerce, and Whistler has been blamed 
for his unreliability, to use the mildest term urged 
against him. 

Without knowing him it is impossible to under- 
stand his attitude towards his pictures. 

In the first place, he was profoundly attached to 
them, whether sold or not. They were and re- 
mained his work ; and in a humorous way he fre- 
quently insisted upon this superior right of the 
creator, — as on the fly-leaf of the catalogue of his 
London exhibition, which read : 

"Nocturnes, Marines, and Chevalet Pieces : a catalogue. 
Small collection kindly lent their owners. ' ' 

And sometimes this assertion of a superior equity 
went so far as to interfere with the right of posses- 
sion, which was quite beyond the comprehension of 
the multitude. 

The story is told that a certain Lady B pur- 
chased one of his pictures, but was never able to 
get it. 

One day she drove to the studio in her victoria. 
Mr. Whistler went out to the sidewalk to greet her. 

"Mr. Whistler," she said, "two years ago I bought one 
of your pictures, a beautiful thing, and I have never been 
able to hang it on my walls. It has been loaned to one 
exhibition after another. Now, to-day I have my carriage 
with me, and I would like to take it home with me. I am 
told it is in your possession." 

"Dear lady," returned Whistler, " you ask the impossi- 


ble. I will send it to you at the earliest practicable moment. 
You know, — those last slight touches, — which achieve per- 
fection, — make all things beautiful." And so forth and so 
forth, to the same effect, and the lady drove off without her 

After she had departed, Whistler commenced to poke 
around the studio, and, to the great astonishment of a friend 
who had been an involuntary listener to the above conversa- 
tion, he brought forth a canvas. 

" Here it is," he said. " She was right about one thing, 
it is beautiful. ' ' And it was beautiful. 

"But the impudence of these people," he continued, 
' ' who think that because they pay a few paltry hundred 
pounds they own my pictures. Why, it merely secures them 
the privilege of having them in their houses now and then ! 
The pictures are mine /' ' 

However, this side of Whistler is on record in 
the case of "The Baronet vs. The Butterfly," as he 
called the suit of Sir William Eden to obtain pos- 
session of the portrait of Lady Eden. 

As the circumstances of this famous case illustrate 
Whistler's attitude towards his work, and at the 
same time his attitude towards those who tried to 
deal commercially with him, they are worth recall- 
ing : 

In June, 1893, Sir William Eden, a wealthy 
English baronet, wrote a letter to Goupil & Co., in 
London, asking what Mr. Whistler's price would be 
for a small picture of Lady Eden, and he was in- 
formed that the price would be about five hundred 
guineas. He replied, stating that he thought the 
price too high, and said that he would call and see 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

Mr. Whistler in Paris. Instead of so doing, he 
applied to a common friend, who wrote Whistler 
saying that the portrait " is for a friend of mine, on 
the one hand, and, on the other hand, you will have 
to paint a very lovely and very elegant woman, 
whose portrait you will be delighted to undertake," 
and " under the circumstances I think you might 
make very liberal concessions." 

The matter of price was always a matter of indif- 
ference to Whistler, — if also of indifference to the 
other party, — and when Sir William wrote concern- 
ing the price, Whistler replied very cordially in 
January, 1894, as follows : 

"Dear Sir William Eden : Your letter has only just 
been handed to me, but this may still, perhaps, reach you in 
the afternoon. It is quite understood as to the little painting, 
and I think there can be no difficulty about the sum. The 
only really interesting point is that I should be able to 
produce the charming picture which, with the aid of Lady 
Eden, ought to be expected. Once undertaken, however 
slight, for me one work is as important as another, and 
even more so, as Calino said. As for the amount, Moore, 
I fancy, spoke of one hundred to one hundred and fifty 

The letter is quite characteristic of the artist. 
His interest was in the possibility of producing a 
charming picture. The amount he mentioned was 
less than he ordinarily asked for a water-color 
sketch, and one-fifth that named by Goupil & Co. 

It must be noted that the amount is not fixed 
by Whistler, but is left at from one hundred to one 



hundred and fifty pounds, depending of course upon 
the painter's own feeling regarding his work, and 
not depending in any sense upon the whim of the 

The portrait went on towards completion. In- 
stead of painting a head, as was originally suggested, 
Whistler painted a full-length figure seated upon a 
little sofa, the entire composition being quite as 
elaborate an interior as if the canvas had been five 
times the size. The picture was about fourteen to 
sixteen inches long by five or six inches high, and 
was such an exquisite bit of the painter's art that a 
representative of a public gallery, who did not know 
that it was a commission, offered for it twelve hun- 
dred dollars, and higher offers were made. 

Sir William Eden did not again refer to the price, 
although he had many opportunities ; but on Febru- 
ary 14, St. Valentine's day, the baronet visited the 
studio and expressed himself as delighted with the 
picture. On taking leave, he informed Mr. Whistler 
that he was about to start for India on a hunting- 
tour, and, taking an envelope from his pocket, he 
handed it to the artist. " Here is a valentine for 
you. Look at it after I have gone. Don't bother 
about it just now." 

When the artist opened his " valentine," he found 
a check for one hundred guineas, — the minimum 
amount mentioned in his letter. The baronet had 
taken it upon himself to fix the price of the picture 
on the eve of his departure. The "valentine" read 
as follows : 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

"4 Rue de Presbourg, Paris, February 14, 1894. 
"Dear Mr. Whistler: Herewith your valentine, — 
cheque value one hundred guineas. The picture will always 
be of inestimable value to me, and will be handed down as 
an heirloom as long as heirlooms last. 

" I shall always look with pleasure to the painting of it, — ■ 
and, with thanks, remain 

" Yours sincerely, 

" William Eden." 

To which Whistler immediately replied : 

" no Rue du Bac, Paris, February 14. 
"My Dear Sir William: I have your valentine. You 
really are magnificent, and have scored all round. 

" I can only hope that the little picture will prove even 
slightly worthy of all of us, and I rely on Lady Eden's 
amiable promise to let me add the few last touches we know 
of. She has been so courageous and kind all along in doing 
her part. 

"With best wishes again for your journey, 
' ' Very faithfully, 

"J. McNeill Whistler." 

From the legal point of view Whistler made the 
mistake of not immediately returning the check for 
one hundred guineas, and the additional mistake of 
exhibiting the picture in the Salon of the Champ 
de Mars in the spring of 1894, as No. 1187, under 
the title of "Brown and Gold. Portrait of Lady 
E ." 

But ultimately the one hundred guineas were re- 
turned, and the baronet brought suit to secure the 
possession of the picture. 



Whistler would have permitted himself to be 
drawn-and-quartered before Sir William Eden 
should have any work of his. He felt, and most 
justly, that a work which had been begun by him, 
first, to oblige others, and secondly, as a labor of 
love, had been placed upon a commercial footing 
of the lowest level. He felt that there had been no 
real desire to have one of his pictures on account 
of its artistic merit, but that there had been an at- 
tempt to secure something of commercial value for 
one-third its market price. 

The episode of the " valentine," truly ingeni- 
ously devised, completely changed the relations 
between the parties. He painted out the little 
portrait, substituted another head, and stood ready 
to return the hundred guineas and to pay whatever 
damages the court might award the plaintiff; but 
under no circumstances should the baronet have 
the picture. 

For the first time in the annals of litigation the 
question was presented for final determination, — 
whether an artist could be compelled to deliver 
work which he claimed was not yet finished to his 
satisfaction, even though he had received the price. 
Be it said to the credit of the French tribunal of 
last resort, that it held broadly that the artist is 
master and proprietor of his work until such time 
as it shall please him to deliver it. But that, failing 
delivery, he must return the price with interest 
thereon, together with such damages as the sitter 
may have sustained. 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

The hand of the painter cannot be forced by the 
importunity of either patient or impatient patron, 
and no man but the painter himself can say when a 
painting is sufficiently finished to be delivered. 

Except in those few cases where Whistler took 
such intense dislikes to sitters or purchasers that he 
would not permit them to have his work under any 
circumstances, there is no instance where the great 
painter, in unduly delaying the delivery of a picture, 
had any intention of depriving the owner of what 
was rightfully his, — namely, the possession of the 

Beyond the right of possession, Whistler did not 
concede much to the owner. Frequently he chal- 
lenged the owner's right to exhibit without his sanc- 
tion, and he was quite inclined to deny to the owner 
the moral right to sell at speculative prices. He 
had a poor opinion of those who would buy from 
the artist to sell later at a profit ; he classed them 
as dealers. 

Sitters did not always see things in the same light, 
and became tired, then impatient, sometimes ugly. 
Then Whistler would no longer like them, and the 
sittings would come to an end. If the portrait was 
unfinished, it was cast aside to remain forever un- 
finished ; if finished, the money would be returned 
and the portrait kept, — under no circumstances to 
fall into the hands of a person whom he disliked. 

The studio contained many an unfinished portrait, 
some of them works of great beauty, but of com- 



plete indifference to Whistler. He lost all interest 
in them when he lost interest in the sitters ; and it 
mattered not to him that he had spent and lost days, 
and weeks, and months of precious time, nor did 
it matter to him that his sitters had exhausted them- 
selves with numerous and long seances. 

Childless, his paintings were his children, and to 
part with one was like the parting of mother and 

In these days, when the selling of pictures has 
become an essential part of the art of painting, it is 
difficult for people to comprehend the attitude of a 
man who really did not like to sell. 

"What are pictures painted for, if not to sell?" 
asks the spirit of the age. 

It does not seem quite so obvious that poems are 
written to sell and that music is composed to sell. 
Even the " practical man" feels that poems and 
music ought to be made for something more than 
to sell, and if they are not, they will be the worse 
for the narrow end in view ; but paintings and 
sculpture, they are commercial products to be dealt 
in accordingly. 

When Whistler did part with a picture he had no 
faculty for getting a high price. His prices were 
very uncertain. To one person he might ask a 
round sum, to another small, — just as the mood 
seized him, the price having no particular relation 
to the painting. 

He never could see why paintings should be sold, 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

like cloth, by the square yard ; why a large picture 
should necessarily bring more than a small. To him 
perfection was perfection, whether large or small. 

What justifiable reason is there for the commer- 
cial schedule of so much for a head, so much for 
a half-length, so much for a full-length portrait? 

The one may, but does by no means necessarily, 
take a little more time ; but, then, a painter does 
not value his work by the day. 

A perfect thing is a perfect thing, whether large 
or small, Whistler would frequently say. In the 
matter of prices he was obliged to yield somewhat 
to custom, and ask more for large pictures than for 
small, but he did so reluctantly and intermittently, 
with the natural result that dealers, who screen pic- 
tures as the plasterer does his gravel, could do 
nothing with him. 

Of late years, with a demand far beyond any pos- 
sible supply, his prices advanced ; but where a 
Degas, for instance, would sell for five, ten, or fifteen 
thousand dollars, a Whistler of incomparably greater 
beauty would sell for a third or a fifth the amount, — 
proof of what the co-operation of the dealer can do. 

Some years ago he showed a visitor several heads 
of Italian children, each about ten or twelve, by 
sixteen or eighteen inches in size. With them was 
a three-quarter length of one of the children. They 
were all superb bits of portraiture, and akin to the 
" Little Rose, Lyme Regis," in the Boston Museum 
of Fine Arts. 

is 273 


The visitor was eager to get one or more of the 
pictures. After considerable pressure, he said : 

"I think they ought to be worth six hundred guineas 
each ; don't you ?" 

' • And the large one ?' ' said the visitor. 

"Oh, the same. That is no more important than the 
small. ' ' 

"Very well. May I have all four ?' ' 

"Dear me! You don't want them all ?" 

" If you will let me have them." 

" But — " and then the struggle began, " I must look them 
over ; they are not quite finished. ' ' 

"But, surely, these two are finished." 

"Yes, I might let those go by-and-bye, but not now." 

' ' Will you send them to me ?' ' 

' ' Yes, certainly, after I have gone over them again. ' ' 

• ' I will leave a check. ' ' 

" God bless me, no ! You must not do that. It will be 
time enough to send a check after you receive the little pic- 

Needless to say, the pictures were never received. 
They had just been finished, and he could not bring 
himself to part with them. It was not a matter of 
money at all, — likely as not he sold them later for 
less, — but it was always next to impossible to get 
him to part with recent work. If he happened to 
have on hand a picture five or ten years old, pos- 
sibly that could be bought and taken away, but 
anything in which he was interested at the time 
he would not let go. 

In 1894 he exhibited three small marines, which 
he had painted off-shore while the boatman steadied 



2ID3H HMYJ t 380» 3JTTIJ 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

his boat. They were fresh and crisp, — so good that 
a great painter of marines said of them in the exhi- 
bition, "They over-topped everything about them." 

Two were sold, and he showed the third to an American 
who came to the studio. The caller said at once he would 
be only too glad to take it at the price named ; the matter 
was apparently closed, and the buyer sailed for home, leaving 
a friend to get the picture. 

A day or two after, Whistler stood looking long and earn- 
estly at the little marine, saying half to himself : 

" It is good, isn't it ?" 

Then he took the canvas out of the frame, and said : 

" I think it needs touching up a little." 

Another pause, then : 

" Do you know, I believe I won't let this go just yet. I 
want to go over it once more. You know, I can send your 
friend something else next winter, — something that he may 
like better. And if he doesn't like it, why, he can return 

" But, Mr. Whistler, he wants this little marine. There is 
not much to do upon it, is there ?" 

" No — o ; but, then, you see " 

" Well, why not give it the last touches now, and let him 
have it. If you do not send him this, I am afraid he will 
never have one of your pictures." 

" Oh, yes, he will ; next winter " 

' ' But next winter others will come in when we are not 
here, and buy from you whatever you have." 

" Well, we will see." 

And only persistent urgings, day after day, even 
after a draft on London had been forced upon him, 
induced him to ship the painting. 

At no time was there any question of price or 



money involved ; he simply did not wish to part 
with the last of his three marines. 

It was not until about 1890, and after, that Whist- 
ler's paintings began to sell at anything like their 
real worth. To his credit be it said, his work was 
never " popular." 

By his independence, his seeming defiance of all 
conventional and academic notions in his art, his 
eccentricities, and his lack of commercial instincts 
he managed, at a very early period in his career, to 
alienate, — 


Painters, and 

the three factors upon which commercial success 

"A millionaire — one who was getting up an art- 
gallery — went to Whistler's studio and glanced cas- 
ually at the pictures. 

" ' How much for the lot ?' he asked, with the 
confidence of one who owns gold mines. 

" 'Your millions,' said Whistler. 

" < What !' 

" ' My posthumous prices.' And the painter 
added, ' Good-morning.' " 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 


The School of Carmen — In Search of Health — 
Chelsea once more — The End. 

To please Madame Carmen Rossi, who as a child 
had been one of his best models, Whistler con- 
sented in 1897 to criticise the work of such students 
as might attend her school. As a result Carmen's 
atelier was for the time being the most distinguished 
in Paris, and it was not uncommon to see carriages 
with coachmen and footmen in livery before the 
door on the days that Whistler was expected. 

As he passed about among the pupils he seldom 
praised and was never enthusiastic. He would 
sometimes stand many minutes before a canvas that 
merited his attention and would suggest changes 
and improvements ; and now and then he took a 
brush and made the alterations himself, remarking, 
if the student were a young woman, " Now you have 
a Whistler all to your charming self." 

The story is told that once he stopped before a 
very brilliant canvas, and exclaimed, " Hideous ! 
hideous !" The student said, somewhat proudly, 
that she had taken private lessons from Bouguereau, 
and he blandly inquired, " Bouguereau, Bouguereau, 
— who is Bouguereau?" 



A pupil has printed some reminiscences of those 
days : * 

" Usually Mr. Whistler came once a week to criticise us, 
and on those days the class, numbering anywhere from fif- 
teen to forty, had been instructed to adopt a certain respect- 
ful mode of bearing on the arrival of the master ; so, when 
the concierge threw wide the door and formally announced, 
'Monsieur Whistler,' every student had risen to return his 
ceremonious salutation. Vividly I recall the scene : a man 
of not much more than medium stature, but so slight as to 
give the impression, when standing apart from others, of 
being much taller ; dressed entirely in black, even to the 
suede gloves ; every garment immaculate in fit and condi- 
tion ; a little red rosette of the Legion of Honor of France 
forming the only spot of color about him until a faint flush 
rose to his cheek as he greeted the class with kindly smile. 

"Then, as massier (or monitor, in charge of the class), he 
passed me his long, black, fur-lined coat and tall, straight- 
brimmed hat, — those well-known targets for the caricaturist, 
— and began his criticism by inspecting every drawing and 
weighing its merits — if any there were, as only too rarely 
happened — before uttering a word. This silent inspection 
finished, Mr. Whistler usually asked for a palette, — preferably 
mine, because it was patterned after his own, and made him 
'feel at home,' as he expressed it, — and then, without re- 
moving his gloves, painted a few strokes here and there on 
some of the pupils' work. Even in the matter of a palette 
he evinced marked sentiment. A carelessly kept one was, 
above all, his particular abhorrence, and generally elicited 
some such remark as the following : ' My friends, have you 
noticed the way in which a musician cares for his violin — 
how beautiful it is ? how well kept ? how tenderly handled ? 
Your palette is your instrument, its colors the notes, and 
upon it you play your symphonies.' 

1 E. S. Crawford, in The Reader, September, 1903. 

OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

"As an instructor he was courteous to each pupil, but 
naturally most interested in those who followed his precepts 
closest. Sometimes he jested at the expense of a luckless 
pupil. I remember an amusing instance. Smoking was pro- 
hibited on the days for criticism, since our master believed it 
clouded the atelier and in some degree obscured a view of 
the model. One day, upon entering, Mr. Whistler noticed 
an Englishman, much addicted to his huge cigars, who con- 
tinued puffing away contentedly during the ' criticism.' Mr. 
Whistler turned quickly, asking me why his wishes were not 
enforced ; but before I could frame a reply he had addressed 
our British friend, saying, ' Er — my dear sir, I know you do 
not smoke to show disrespect to my request that the students 
should refrain from smoking on the days I come to them, nor 
would you desire to infringe upon the rules of the atelier — 
but — er — it seems to me — er — that when you are painting — 
er — you might possibly become so absorbed in your work as 
to — er — well — let your cigar go out.' I often remarked a 
whimsical affectation of Mr. Whistler in his manner of speech 
with different pupils in his class, — we were a diverse lot from 
many lands, Americans and English predominating. If criti- 
cising an American, for instance, Mr. Whistler's choice of 
language, and in some cases his accent, would become mark- 
edly English in form ; while in addressing an Englishman 
he would adopt the Yankee drawl, sometimes adding a touch 
of local slang. I subsequently learned that these were his 
customary tactics, even in society, but in class criticism he 
always addressed us in French." 

His methods of teaching were original. He laid 
little stress on drawing. He hated and despised 
academic treatment. He wanted the pupil to paint. 
A few careful charcoal strokes on the canvas as a 
guide, the rest to be drawn in with brush and color. 
And he preached simplicity, — as few tones as pos- 



sible, as low as possible. But it is painful to record 
that the endeavors of a certain proportion of the 
class to attempt the achievements of the master in 
this respect resulted in a unique crop of posters. 
The constant theme of his discourse was "mix- 
tures." He advised a pupil to get first on his 
palette a correct and sufficient mixture of each tone 
required for his picture. Often he would give a 
long criticism without so much as glancing at the 
canvas, — a criticism on the mixtures he found on the 
pupil's palette ; and he himself would work indefi- 
nitely at the colors, and all the while talking, till 
it appeared to him to be satisfactory. "And then," 
says an enthusiastic young artist, "when he did 
take up some of the color and transfer it to the 
canvas, why, it would just sing." 

1 ' One day on entering the class-room he discovered that 
a red background had been arranged behind the model. He 
was horrified, and directed the students to put up something 
duller in tone. 

' ' Then he scraped out the red paint on a pupil' s canvas 
and proceeded to mix and lay on a new background. Some- 
how the red would show through, and he found it difficult to 
satisfy himself with the effect he produced. He mixed and 
studied and scraped, working laboriously, surrounded by a 
group of admiring students. Finally, he remarked : 

" ' I suppose you know what I'm trying to do ?' 

" 'Oh, yes, sir,' they chorused. 

"'Well, it's more than I know myself,' he grimly 
replied. ' ' 

It is to be hoped that his epigrammatic utterances 
which hung on the walls of the Carmen Rossi 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

school have been preserved, for they would be val- 
uable additions to the "Propositions" and "Ten 
o'Clock" already published. 

With none of the instincts of the teacher, he in 
time lost interest in the school. After a year or 
two his visits became infrequent, and upon leaving 
Paris his connection ceased. 

The studio in Notre Dame des Champs and the 
home on the Rue du Bac were closed a few years 
after the death of Mrs. Whistler, and he made his 
home once more in Chelsea, at 74 Cheyne Walk, 
with frequent excursions to the Continent. 

In the winter of 1901 he was at Ajaccio, and he 
wrote to a friend : " You will be surprised at this 
present address. But it's all right, — " Napoleon and 
I, you know." 

In another letter to the same friend, speaking of 
a public official with whom he had some legal 
transactions, he remarks: "Say that I know how 
devotedly kind he has been in his care of me, but 
the care of the state overwhelms him. You can- 
not serve the republic . . . and Whistler." 

For many years his heart had troubled him, and 
towards the last the warnings came more frequently 
and persistently. The year before his death he was 
quite ill at The Hague, and one of the London 
papers printed the following of a semi-obituary 
flavor : 

" Mr. Whistler is so young in spirit that his friends 


must have read with surprise the Dutch physician's 
pronouncement that the present illness is due to 
' advanced age.' In England sixty-seven is not ex- 
actly regarded as ' advanced age ;' but even for the 
gay ' butterfly' time does not stand still, and some 
who are unacquainted with the details of Mr. 
Whistler's career, though they may know his work 
well, will be surprised to hear that he was exhibit- 
ing at the Academy forty-three years ago. His 
contributions to the exhibition of 1859 were 'Two 
Etchings from Nature,' and at intervals during the 
following fourteen or fifteen years Mr. Whistler was 
represented at the Academy by a number of 
works, both paintings and etchings. In 1863 ms 
contributions numbered seven in all, and in 1865 
four. Among his Academy pictures of 1865 was the 
famous ' Little White Girl,' * the painting that at- 
tracted so much attention at the Paris Exhibition of 
1900. This picture — rejected at the Salon of 1863 — 
was inspired, though the fact seems to have been for- 
gotten of late, by the following lines of Swinburne : 

" 'Come snow, come wind or thunder 
High up in air, 
I watch my face and wonder 
At my bright hair, etc., etc.' " 

The item called forth the following characteristic 
correction, dated from The Hague : 

' ' Sir : I feel it no indiscretion to speak of my ' convales- 
cence' since you have given it official existence. 

1 See page 185. 



OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

' • May I therefore acknowledge the tender little glow of 
health induced by reading, as I sat here in the morning sun, 
the nattering attention paid me by your gentleman of ready 
wreath and quick biography. 

' ' I cannot, as I look at my improving self with daily satis- 
faction, really believe it all ; still it has helped to do me 
good. And it is with almost sorrow that I must beg you, 
perhaps, to put back into its pigeon-hole, for later on, this 
present summary, and replace it with something preparatory 
— which, doubtless, you have also ready. 

"This will give you time, moreover, for some correction, 
— if really it be worth while. But certainly the ' Little White 
Girl,' which was not rejected at the Salon of '63, was, I am 
forced to say, not ' inspired by the following lines of Swin- 
burne, ' for the one simple reason that those lines were only 
written, in my studio, after the picture was painted. And 
the writing of them was a rare and graceful tribute from the 
poet to the painter — a noble recognition of one work by the 
production of a nobler one. 

"Again, of 'the many tales concerning the hanging, at 
the Academy, of the well-known portrait of the artist's 
mother, now at the Luxembourg,' one is true — let us trust 
your gentleman may have time to find it out — that I may 
correct it. I surely may always hereafter rely on the Morn- 
ing Post to see that no vulgar Woking joke reach me. 

" It is my marvellous privilege, then, to come back, as who 
should say, while the air is still warm with appreciation, 
affection, and regret, and to learn in how little I had 

"The continuing to wear my own hair and eyebrows, 
after distinguished confreres and eminent persons had long 
ceased their habit, has, I gather, clearly given pain. This, 
I see, is much remarked on. It is even found inconsiderate 
and unseemly in me, as hinting at affectation. 

« ' I might beg you, sir, to find a pretty place for this, that 
I would make my 'apology,' containing also promise, in 



years to come, to lose these outer signs of vexing presump- 

" Protesting, with full enjoyment of its unmerited eulogy, 
against your premature tablet, I ask you again to contradict 
it, and appeal to your own sense of kind sympathy when I 
tell you I learn that I have, lurking in London, still 'a 
friend' — though for the life of me I cannot remember his 

' ' And I have, sir, the honor to be 

"J. McNeill Whistler." 

In the spring of 1903, only a few months before 
his death, three of his pictures were withdrawn from 
the annual exhibition of the Society of American 
Artists in New York. They had not been sent in 
by him, but loaned by the owner upon the under- 
standing they would be given the prominence which 
he thought Whistler's work deserved. 

In the absence of the owner in Europe the whole 
matter was left in charge of a member of the society, 
— a well-known artist, — who, when he saw where 
the committee had placed the little pictures, promptly 
withdrew them, and notified the owner of his action, 
which was approved. 

Whistler learned of the matter, and wrote the fol- 
lowing letter : 

"Dear Mr. L : I have just learned with distress 

that my canvases have been a trouble and a cause of thought 
to the gentlemen of the hanging committee. 

"Pray present to them my compliments and my deep 

' ' I fear also that this is not the first time of simple and 
good-natured intrusion, — 'looking in,' as who should say, 


OF JAMES A. McNEILL whistler 

with beaming fellowship and crass camaraderie upon the 
highly-finished table and well-seated guests, — to be kindly 
and swiftly shuffled into some further respectable place, that 
all be well and hospitality endure. 

" Promise, then, for me, that I have learned and that this 
'shall not occur again.' And, above all, do not allow a 
matter of colossal importance to ever interfere with the after- 
noon habit of peace and good will and the leaf of the mint 
so pleasantly associated with this society. 

" I could not be other than much affected by your warm 
and immediate demonstration, but I should never forgive 
myself were the consequences of lasting vexation to your 

distinguished confreres, and, believe me, dear Mr. L , 

very sincerely, 

"J. McNeill Whistler. 

" London, April 7, 1903." 

To the end he worked with indefatigable energy, 
save only those days and hours when he was com- 
pelled by exhaustion or by the physicians to rest. 

Work was a tonic to him, and, while painting, the 
rebellious organs of his body were submissive to his 

He would forget himself when, brush in hand, he 
stood before a canvas. 

During the spring of 1903 he had been far from 
well. Into May he worked, but not regularly nor 
for long at a time. In June he was quite ill, and 
his friends were apprehensive ; but in the early part 
of July he began to gain, so that he took long drives 
and planned resuming his work. 

On the afternoon of July 16 he was out for a 
drive and in the best of spirits, with plans for the 



future that even a younger man could not hope to 

Art, the ever-youthful mistress of his life, urged 
him on. Should he confess before her the ravages 
of years? In dauntless enthusiasm, in boundless 
ambition, in spirit unsubdued he was still young. He 
struggled to his feet and for the last time stood be- 
fore the canvas, — the magic mirror from which he, 
wizzard-like, had evoked so many beautiful images ; 
he thought of the things he yet would do, of lines 
that would charm for all time, of colors that would 
play like the iridescent hues upon the surface of the 
shimmering sea, of the wraith-like images of people 
which lurked in the depths of the canvas awaiting 
the touch of his wand to step forth in all their stately 
dignity and beauty. 

And the soul of the master was filled with 

But the visions of beauty were shattered, 
Like forms of the mist they were scattered — 
As bubbles are blown by a breath — 
By the grim, haunting spectre of Death. 

The tired body could not respond, and there 
where he had worked, on the afternoon of Friday, 
July 17, the great painter died. 

On the following Wednesday the funeral services 
were held in the old church at Chelsea where he 
often went with his mother, and he was buried in the 
graveyard at Chiswick. 


" We have then but to wait — until with the mark of the 
gods upon him — there come among us again the chosen — 
who shall continue what has gone before. Satisfied that, 
even were he never to appear, the story of the beautiful is 
already complete — hewn in the marbles of the Parthenon — 
and broidered, with the birds, upon the fan of Hokusai — at 
the foot of Fusiyama." — Whistler's "Ten o'clock." 


Ajaccio, 281 

Albany, 33 , 

Allen, Sir -William, 35 

America, attitude towards, 52-53; desire to visit, 22; trip 
to South America, 22-23 

American appreciation, 15-17; art, future of, 63-64; char- 
acteristics, 64-65 

Americanism, Whistler's, 47-48 

Ancestors, 25-28 

Anecdotes and sayings, as a teacher, 277-281 ; attitude 
towards America, 52-53 ; authenticity of stories, 81-82 ; 
bailiff in the "White House," 112-113; Balaam's ass, 
84-85 ; blue-and-white china, 70 ; Boer war, 45 ; 
Carlyle portrait, 123 ; colors and pigments used, 72-73 ; 
concerning a sitter, 238-239; concerning birth, 29; con- 
cerning Carlyle and Miss Alexander, 121 ; concerning 
Chicago, 27 ; concerning each portrait, 241-242 ; con- 
cerning his portraits, 255; concerning poor lawyers, 148; 
concerning purchasers, 265-266 ; concerning sittings re- 
quired, 30-31; continually polishing, 84-85; Dieppe, 34; 
disintegration of the Royal Society of British Artists, 
218; early days in Paris, 86-88; early days in Venice, 
92-95; effacing an insult, 43; falling down stairs, 114; 
first money earned with brush, 80-81 ; Henry James, 85 ; 
his umbrella, 227 ; Hogarth, 55 ; house-painters, 212 ; 
late to dinner, 29-30; Leighton, 82-84; in lithography 
suit, 103; man whose coat did not fit, 42; " Nana," 151— 
153; Napoleon and I, 281; Nature looking up, 214; 
necktie of a sitter, 191 ; no artistic period, 73-78 ; old 
Delft, 71; painting in the dark, 214; " Peacock Room," 
129; of Peter the Great, 35; railway accident, 33-34; 
rebuking an admirer, 162; rich man's house, 56; Ros- 
setti, in; Royal Academy, 116-119; Savoy Hotel, 181; 
school, 61 ; selling his pictures, 274-275 ; Stoeckl dinner, 
'9 c, 289 


40-41; story of "The Yellow Buskin," 1 19-120; studio 
on ground floor, 229 ; the arrangement in gray, 194 ; the 
color of a critic's clothes, 195 ; the grocer's shop, 193- 
194; the millionaire, 276; the model and the red back- 
ground, 280 ; the pupil who smoked, 279 ; the republic 
and Whistler, 281; the Ruskin trial, 144-147; the studio 
stove, 231; to the Prince of Wales, 217; trip to Val- 
paraiso, 22-23; unwelcome callers at studio, 228; visit 
of students to his studio, 134-135 ; " warm personal 
enemy," 156; West Point, 36; while in service of Coast 
and Geodetic Survey, 37-41 

Angelo, Michael, 253 

Appearance and characteristics, 36 ; alertness, 85 ; a poser, 
149-155; approachable, except in studio, 227-228; as a 
story-teller, 224 ; at home, 222 ; attitude towards art 
and artists, 122; attitude towards nature, 213-216; atti- 
tude towards other artists, 56; attitude towards pur- 
chasers, 265-272; attitude towards the Royal Academy, 
115-119; careless about keeping list of works, 90; cour- 
age, 42-43 ; dilatory habits, 37-41 ; dress when a young 
man, 41-42; George Moore's theory, 168-172; his Amer- 
icanism, 47-78; his dislikes and prejudices, 271-272; 
laugh, 119; military spirit, 45-46; no commercial in- 
stinct, in; no mystery about his art, 106-108; on the 
street, 226 ; Puritan element, 49-50 ; refinement, 50 ; 
sense of humor, 82; superstitions, 44; susceptibility to 
color intervals, 191-195 ; West Point, 44; when twenty, 

Art, abstract use of color, 211 ; and physique, 168-172; early 
love for, 35 ; harmonies in line, 182 ; his paintings and 
poetry, 182; of pure line, 180-181 ; Oriental, 176; purely 
sensuous, 180 

Artistic period, 73-78 

Autograph character of work, 105-106 

Balcony," "The, 58 

Baptism, 32 

Baronet vs. The Butterfly, 266-270 

Beauties of form and color, 185-186 

Beethoven, 257; relation to, 176 

Birth, 28-29, 31-32 



Boston, proposed exhibition of pictures, 20 

Bouguereau, 277 

Boxall, Sir William, 53-54 

Brothers and sisters, 32 

Burne-Jones, 176; Ruskin trial, 146 

Carlyle, 119; and Froude, 122-123; as a friend, 121-122 

Catalogues, 167-168, 265 ; of exhibition in 1892, 160-161 ; 
of lithographs, 104. See Exhibitions 

Character. See Appearance and characteristics 

Chelsea, Carlyle as neighbor and sitter, 121-122; Carlyle's 
description, 109-111; death and last illness, 285-286; 
early days in, 109; his last home, 281-286; the bailiff, 
112-113; "White House," 112-113; "White House" 
occupied by a critic, 114 

Chicago, grandfather founded, 26-27 

Chinese and Japanese art, 181 ; autograph character of 
Japanese art, 105-106 ; blue china, 61 ; degradation of 
Japanese art, 78; influence of, 55 

Chiswick, buried at, 286 

Coast and Geodetic Survey, 39-40 

Color, "ability to feel," 208; abstract composition, 197; and 
the musical scale, 195-196; art of pure color, 180-181 
beauties of, 185-186; decoration, 128-135; first color 
harmonies, 58; his own explanation of, 178-180; illus- 
trated in different pictures, 211 ; in Italy and Greece, 198 
of sculptor, 206 ; range of color-notes, 189-191 ; Rus- 
kin's attitude towards, 158-160, 199-208; Ruskin trial 
145-146; sense of, lost, 183-184; supreme as a colorist, 
173; the house-painter and decorator, 186; used imita- 
tively, 204, 207, 209; Whistler's susceptibility to, 191- 

Colorist. See Color 

Commercial side, lacking, 265-276 

Conversation, a lost art, 149-151 

Courage, 33, 36, 42-43 

Criticism, language of, 161 

Criticisms in America, 15-16 

Critics, arraignment of, in catalogue, 98-102, 160-161, 167* 

Critics and criticisms, attitude towards, 162-165 ; early criti- 



cism of Turner, 142-143; George Moore, 168-172; his 
attitude towards, 155-157; his color harmonies not un- 
derstood, 184; is the painter the final judge? 162-165; 
order of appreciation, 173-175 ; Ruskin's attitude towards 
color, 158-160; " Voice of a People," 165-167 

Dealers, attitude towards, 276 

Death and last illness, 285-286 

Decoration, 127-133; as a decorator, 131-135; in home in 
Paris, 220-222; "Peacock Room," 128-131, 209 

Dieppe, 33-34 

Dress, 41-42 

Eden, Sir William, 267-270 

England's indifference, 47-49 

Englishman's stupidity, 16 

Etchings, appreciation of a collector, 96-97 ; of Haden, 96 ; 
catalogues of, 91 ; early French criticism, 60 ; " French 
Set," 90; Haden collection of, 96; his first, 88-89; his 
" Venice Set," 91 ; " Thames Set," 91 ; " Twenty-six 
Etchings," 91 

Exhibitions, 1868, 177; 1893, 65; at Antwerp, 263; at Chi- 
cago, 263 ; at London, 265 ; at Paris, 1894, 24, 264 ; at 
the Royal Academy, 114-119; criticisms of, 98-101; his 
catalogues, 99-101 ; light and background required for 
his pictures, 134-139; of etchings, 1883, 97; of litho- 
graphs, 104 ; reluctant about exhibiting, 262-264 ; Soci- 
ety of American Artists in 1903, 284-285 ; Society of 
British Artists, 136; special, 120-121 ; with artificial 
light, 135 ; " Yellow and White," 98, 132 

Family, 25-28 ; brothers and sisters, 32 ; father, 27-28, 35 ; 
mother, 28; mother's diary, 34-35 

Fine Arts Society, 121 

Foreword, 7 

Form, appreciation of, 203 

Fort Dearborn, grandfather built, 26-27 

French art, influence of, 57-60; criticism, early, 59-60 

Frith, 177; Ruskin trial, 146 

Fur Jacket," " The, 65 

Gainesborough, 249, 250 

Gentle Art of Making Enemies," "The, 32, 154-155 

Glasgow and the Carlyle portrait, 124 ; school, 55 



Gleyre, 57, 59, 79 

Gold Screen," " The, 58 

Greece, art of, 63 

Grosvenor Gallery, ng 

Haden, 32, 88-89, 96 

Hague, The, illness at, 281-284; letter from, 282-284 

Hanging of pictures, 124-128 

Harmonies, symphonies, and nocturnes, his explanation of, 

" Hermes," by Praxiteles, 261 

Hogarth, 55, 249, 250 

Honors and awards, 264 

Impressionism, 72 

Ingres, copy of painting by, 80-81 

Interior decorator, 127-128 

International Society, 121 

Irish ancestors, 25, 47 

Italian painters, influence of, 71-72 

Japanese art and influence of, 55. See Chinese and Japanese 

Khayyam, Omar, 243 

Lange Leizen," " The, 58 

Leyland, F. R., 128-131 

Light and background for pictures, 134-139 ; as distinguished 
from color, 160 

Lithographs, naming of, 183 

Lithography, 102-104, 180. See Exhibitions, Catalogues 

Lowell, 31-32 

Manet, 249-250 

Marines, 24, 274-275 

Marriage, 219 

Method. See Work 

Miss Alexander, 50, 119 

" Mona Lisa," 251 

Moore, " Modern Painting," 168-172 

Mother, diary of, 34-35 ; portrait of, 53^, 5ft i]£ 

Music, 176-177; and color, 193; and 'painting, 179; and the 
color scale, 195-196; range of sounds, 186-188; the un- 
educated ear, 196; "truths of sound," 203-204 

National influence, 61-78 



Nature and art, 213-216; and color, 216; and music, 215 

Naval Academy, 37 

Nocturnes, 119. See Pictures 

Nude, attitude towards, 50-51 

Painting and music, 179; flat tones, 212; his manner and 
mode of, 231-237 

Paris as an art centre, 62-63; early days in, 86-88; home 
life in, 222-224; in 1855, 79; Rue du Bac, 219; studio, 
131, 132 

Pastels, 106-107 

" Peacock Room," 128-131, 209; trouble over payment, 129- 

Phidias, 253 

Philadelphia, 120 

Physical appearances. See Appearance and characteristics 

Picture galleries, 124-128 

Pictures, arrangement of, by periods, 211; "At the Piano," 
114, 210; Carlyle portrait, 123-124; estimation of, 261; 
exhibition of, to visitors, 133-135 ; " Falling Rocket," 
140; hanging of, a lost art, 124-128; hanging of portrait 
of his mother, 115; " Lange Leizen," 210; marines, 212; 
naming of, 178, 183, 185 ; " Nocturnes," " Harmonies," 
and " Symphonies," 210, 211 ; present prices of, 114-115; 
"The Princess of the Land of Porcelain," 58, 128, 210; 
" Little Rose, Lyme Regis," 273 ; story of " The Yellow 
Buskin," 1 19-120; Symphonies in White, II. and III., 
210; "Thames in Ice," 210; "The Balcony," 210; 
"The Gold Screen," 210; the Japanese group, 210, 211; 
"The Music Room," 210; "White Girl," 59-60, 109, 
210, 282 ; " The Yellow Buskin," 65. See Portraits 

Pomfret, 36 

Portraits, classification of, 248; color compositions, 258; 
difference between Whistler and Velasquez, 256-258; 
each one to be a masterpiece, 241-242; his best, 261- 
262; Irving as Philip II., 119; Lady Campbell, 119; 
likeness, 258-262; manner and mode of painting, 231- 
237; Miss Gilchrist, 119; of Lady E , 269; portrait- 
painting, 244; sittings required, 30~3 I > 2 35 i wraith-like 
quality, 255 

Praxiteles, 261 



" Propositions" and " The Ten o'Clock," 108 

Providence, 32 

Puritan element, 49-50 

Racial influence, 61-78 

Raphael, 253 

Rembrandt, 67, 175, 244, 253, 254, 255, 256; essentially 

Dutch, 67 
Reynolds, Sir Joshua, 247, 249, 252 
Rosa Corder, 119 
Rossetti, in 

Rossi, Carmen, school of, 277-281 
Royal Academy, attitude towards, 114-119; exhibitions at, 

etc., 114-119 
Royal Society of British Artists, 217 
Rue du Bac, 219 
Ruskin and flat tones, 212; attitude towards color, 158-160, 

199-208 ; attitude towards early criticism of Turner, 143 ; 

color in his home, 207-208 ; his limitations, 165 ; suit, 

Savoy Hotel, 181 

Sayings. See Anecdotes and sayings 
School, no American, 61-63 ; of Carmen Rossi, 277-281 
Sculptor and portrait busts, 245-246 
Society of British Artists, exhibition of, 136 
Sounds, range of musical, 186-188 
Springfield, 33 
St. Petersburg, 27-28, 34-35 
Stonington, 32, 35 

Stories. See Anecdotes and sayings 
Studio, description of, 230-231 ; in Paris, 229 
Swinburne, 74, 177 
Taylor, Tom, 146 
Teacher, as a, 277-281 
" Ten o'Clock," no artistic period, 73-78 
Time, dilatory habits, 37-41 ; indifference to, 20-31 ; never 

prompt, 30 
Travel, dislike for, 33-34; effect of, on artists, 69-70 
Turner and color, 199; early criticism of, 142-143; Whist- 
ler's appreciation of, 56 
Valparaiso, trip to, 22-23 



Velasquez, 60, 175, 244, 251, 253, 254, 255, 256, 257; essen- 
tially Spanish, 68; influence of, 71 

Venice, early days in, 92-95 

" Voice of a People," 165-167 

Water-color, his first, 106 

Webster, Daniel, letter to, 35-36 

West Point, 35-36 

Westerly, 32 

" White Girl," 53, 283 

" White House." See Chelsea 

Will, 240 

Witticisms. See Anecdotes and sayings 

Work always a pleasure, 90-91 ; as a decorator, 128-135 ; 
colors and pigments used, 72-72, ', description of method, 
231-237; exhibition to visitors, 133-135; facility in exe- 
cution, 23 ; his attitude towards a sitter, 238-239, 241 ; 
painting in the dark, 213-214; volume of, 104-105 

Yellow Buskin," "The, 119, 256 




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